Frontline Marketing

Facebook: Consumers React Positively To Brands Promoting Gender Equality

happy woman smiling in office with male coworker

By | August 15, 2017 |

Consumers react positively toward a brand when it promotes gender equality, according to a new study by Facebook IQ. Together with Qualtrics, Facebook surveyed 1,547 smart phone and Facebook users in the United States over the age of 18. The study found that both men and women “feel more positive” about a brand that promotes equality on Facebook.

When a brand promotes gender equality, 48 percent of both men and women surveyed say they feel more loyal toward it. Separately, 51 percent of women said they would prefer to shop from such a brand, compared to 45 percent of men.

Facebook also performed a sentiment analysis of aggregated, anonymized brand posts made in the past year. The company compared a selection of brands that engaged in gender-positive advertising—such as celebrating female athleticism or encouraging girls to study math and science—to brands that were less vocal on the topic.

What they found is that Facebook users react positively when a brand promotes gender equality on the platform. Both women (79 percent) and men (75 percent) surveyed said they feel more positive toward such behavior.

For example, US women were 1.85 times more likely to be interested in watching a movie trailer after seeing an ad featuring an image of a woman dressed as a firefighter versus an image of a woman dressed in revealing clothing. When the same ads were shown to male survey participants, there was no significant difference between men’s reactions to either ad.

Facebook’s survey found that 75 percent of women believe the most important thing brands can do to promote gender equality is to stop portraying women as sex symbols. It should be noted that Facebook did not specify whether survey participants were given other options or if this statement was based on if they agreed/disagreed.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, is a strong proponent of gender equality, especially in industries traditionally dominated by men. Together with her non-profit Lean In, she introduced the Glass Lion Award at Cannes Lions to celebrate outstanding portrayal of women in advertising.

“The data shows that people see hundreds of thousands of marketing messages a day [on Facebook]. We actually see more marketing messages [than TV, movies, books, etc.]. I’m a deep believer that we need to change our culture that positions men as leaders and women as nurturers,” Sandberg told Forbes.

Sandberg and others are working to change this culture. The Unstereotype Alliance, for example, was founded to eradicate outdated stereotypes in advertising. Men appear in ads four times more than women and have seven times more speaking roles, according to research from J. Walter Thompson and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

“Marketing doesn’t just reflect culture—it shapes it,” says Facebook alongside its study findings. “Contribute to social good and capture consumers’ attention by busting stereotypes and promoting positive, empowering depictions of people of all genders.”

It seems rather obvious that women would respond well to advertising or brand messages meant to empower them, but what about the other half of Facebook’s respondents who didn’t feel more loyal or prefer to shop from these brands?

Edelman’s 2017 Earned Brand Study of 14,000 people in 14 countries found that 50 percent of consumers consider themselves to be belief-driven buyers—which means the other half doesn’t. A separate study by advertising trade association 4A’s and SSRS found that 58 percent of consumers dislike when a brand gets political.

“Consumers are not looking to brands to take a position on political or social issues. In fact, there’s typically more risk than benefit,” Alison Fahey, chief marketing officer of the 4A’s, said in a statement. “Brands taking a negative approach risk backlash, and only a small percentage of consumers are moved to buy from positive messaging.”

Overall, brands who portray gender equality do get a positive response, as Facebook’s study found—it just depends on whether you see this cup of brand love as half full or half empty.