Removing stereotypes from advertising is good business – that’s something Aline Santos, Unilver’s EVP global marketing and chief diversity and inclusion officer knows only too well. Since launching the Unstereotype initiative in 2016, the business has managed to make sure that 94% of its advertising output is ‘unstereotypical’ – and not only is that having a positive impact on society, but it's helping creative more effective marketing. Their ‘unstereotyped’ advertising has seen 28% uplift in purchase intention, 35% increase in enjoyment of our ads, 30% increase in credibility, 17% increase in relevance compared with the stuff that relies on the same old tired gendered, ethnic, ableist tropes.
It’s impressive progress but Aline is keen to go further and deeper, both in terms of taking a broader view of what aspects of identity are affected by stereotypes but also in terms of how the ‘Unstereotype’ agenda can shape all functions of Unilever’s business beyond marketing.
“Unstereotyping has transcended marketing,” explains Aline. “As I am also the chief diversity and inclusion officer for Unilever, I brought this idea to the company, the workforce. We are truly committed to the ‘unstereotyping’ of our workforce and we are committed to creating an in environment that is diverse, truly inclusive, where people can be whoever they are. There is space for everyone to voice their thoughts. This has been a tremendous and transformative journey and the HR department has helped us really train lots of the leadership.”
Unilever is trialling and implementing a number of initiatives to bring the ‘Unstereotype’ agenda to the fore – from collecting data on the new fathers who turn down paternity leave to creating boot camps for leadership. Recently they teamed up with University College London to trial a new intervention that has had surprising results.
They decided to find out whether conducting personal DNA analysis might change individuals’ implicit biases and stereotypes. By revealing the richer, more complex truth of their heritage, they wondered if that might lead to greater empathy and insight and a reduction of rigid stereotypical thinking. And the results were astonishing. 63 participants from Unilever’s London, New York and Rotterdam offices took part and the experimental group saw a 35% reduction in stereotypical thinking and a 27% boost in original thinking.
The strength of the clinical trial results has led Aline to believe that the voluntary initiative could be rolled out further. “It’s a huge shift - and this was a one day intervention! It is really, really shocking. We were super intrigued by the results. We are getting the analysis out with this study and we are preparing to roll out to the rest of the organisation And the company recently collaborated with University College London.”
Though Unstereotype was launched by Unilever, the corporation has been keen to bring along marketers from other companies and even the competition. And with this DNA experiment, Aline is keen to share the findings with peers internally and externally.
“Everything that we are doing for gender diversity and inclusion is something we at Unilever don’t want to be competitive with. It is something we want to share, because there are so many other ways that we can be competitive. This is something we really want to help other companies to advance,” says Aline.
Taking a broader view, the reduction of harmful stereotypes across all brands’ marketing would, Aline believes, create a healthier advertising environment. In recent months, several studies have shone an uncomfortable light on the fact that public trust in advertising is plummeting and Aline believes the Unstereotype agenda can go some way to help remedy the situation.
“Unfortunately marketeers and the profession of marketing has been considered one of the least trustworthy professions - and one of the reasons why people feel like that is that when people watch television they don’t see themselves, they don’t see the presentation of their realities,” explains Aline. “The moment you start to ‘unstereotype’ and the moment you start to have a true representation of people in all their dimensions – and it’s not just about gender, it’s about their sexual orientation, the level of education, their religion, whatever is the dimension - people will connect in different ways and have a different connection to advertising.”
And while the Unstereotype initiative certainly started by addressing the issue of gender and how women in particular are portrayed in advertising, Aline is keen to stress the work the company is doing in other areas. For example, Brooke Bond Red Label Tea in India has been working to breakdown religious divisions and stereotypes in the country. Going forward Aline says that addressing the way that people with disability are portrayed in Unilever’s advertising as well as tackling inclusion issues around disability in the workplace are going to be huge priorities for Unilever. LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion will be more visible too in the near future.
“Gender is a very important focus because of the problems we have with gender in our society but unstereotype has always been about all the dimensions. And even if you think about gender, there are so many intersectionalities that happen with gender. A woman already has a lot of challenges when it comes to being well-represented but try to be a woman of colour, or a Latin American like me. Try to be a woman of colour and LGBTQ+. Try to be all this and single – being single , we found out in one of our studies, is one of the biggest stigmas in our society across the world today,” says Aline. “There are so many stigmas and stereotypes that need to be broken and I am super passionate about breaking each and every one.”