Sexism doesn’t sell (Survey)

67% of Canadians are less likely to buy a product from a company running a sexist ad

Rebecca Harris May 10, 2016

First the good news: the majority of Canadians (72%) have a favourable impression of advertising and derive some value from it (83%), according to Advertising Standards Canada’s 2016 Consumer Perspectives on Advertising.

But many consumers feel ads are sexist, and there’s a big price to pay for advertisers. In a survey of more than 1,500 Canadians, conducted by The Gandalf Group, 63% of Canadians (and 70% of women) found at least some ads to be sexist toward women, while 40% said at least some ads are sexist toward men.

In addition, nearly half (47%) of Canadians believe that women are treated somewhat or very unfairly in advertising, while only 31% believe the same when it comes to men.

How respondents feel women are being treated unfairly include: unrealistic body image/must look perfect (39%), oversexualized/objectified (28%), and depicted in traditional roles only (cooking, cleaning, etc.) The ways men are being unfairly treated in advertising include: depicted as stupid/dumb/unreliable (32%), unrealistic body image/too muscular (26%), and bad/uncaring/lazy fathers (16%).

When Canadians see a sexist ad, they report feeling annoyed (46%), resigned (15%) or angry (9%). More women (53%) report feeling annoyed than do men (39%).

“The one that really stands out to me is that more people are not angry about this,” said Peter White, senior vice-president of operations at ASC. “When they see sexist advertising, overwhelmingly people are annoyed, but they’re not outraged, and that’s an interesting finding.”

Most respondents (67%) report they are less likely to buy a product from the company running a sexist ad. This is largely driven by women, 77% of whom are less likely to buy a product as a result of seeing a sexist ad, and particularly by senior women, 82% of whom are less likely to buy a product as a result.

Even if consumers don’t act, “there certainly is some feeling of discomfort, and that’s a message to advertisers,” said ASC president and CEO Linda Nagel. “Be mindful of consumer perceptions, even if they are a little below the surface.”

There are signs of improvement: 44% of Canadians believe that advertising is less sexist than it was 10 years ago, while 25% perceive advertising as more sexist than it was 10 years ago.

The survey also looked at trustworthiness of advertising across media channels. As in previous studies, consumers are more comfortable with levels of truth and accuracy in traditional media versus digital media. Ads in newspapers, as well as brochures, flyers or in-store ads are the most trusted, with 73% saying they feel comfortable with levels of truth and accuracy. This is followed by magazine ads (66%), ads on buses, subways or trains (64%), billboards (64%) and radio ads (62%).

Consumers are the least comfortable with pop-up ads online: only 13% said they are comfortable with the levels of truth and accuracy. In addition, only 23% said the same for banner ads online.

“Digital media always registers on the low end, but in our 2015 report, we found that if the consumer trusted the brand, it didn’t really matter what the media was,” said White. “For example, a Tim Hortons ad is going to be as trusted online as it’s going to be trusted on television.”

The full survey is available here.