We recently partnered with Unilever and the newly formed Unstereotype Alliance - a global alliance convened by UN Women (the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women) and including Facebook, Google, Mattel, Microsoft, J&J, AT&T, and others - to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and other promotional content.

This industry-led initiative unites leaders across business, technology and creative fields to tackle the widespread prevalence of stereotypes that stem from the common practice of marketing to an “ideal customer” and how that exposes deep-rooted ideas of what is feminine and what is masculine.

Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever, says: “We’ve seen true progress in our industry, but it doesn’t go far enough. Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society...This is no longer just a social imperative but a business one, progressive ads have been found to be 25% more effective and deliver better branded impact.”

To help Unilever tackle this challenge, Insitome Institute, together with Edelman, crafted the Unstereotype Experiment in the spring of 2019 to disrupt the way leaders in advertising think about consumers, giving them new skills to commission and create ideas that advance progressive, inclusive and non-stereotypical portrayals of people in their advertising.

What was the underlying assumption of the experiment?

The scientific assumption is that if we can encourage people who commission and create advertising to think less stereotypically and more inclusively about their consumers, we can develop more culturally progressive work. This is different from just casting and swapping out characters to be more representative. If we are

successful, learning to think about consumers more inclusively can impact the process

of creativity from the inception of the idea to its realization.

Who led the experiment?

Professors Dr. Lasana Harris, Associate Professor in Experimental Psychology and

Dr. Gorkan Ahmetoglu, Assistant Professor in Business Psychology at University

College London led the experiment in partnership with Dr. Spencer Wells, Founder of Insitome Institute for DNA testing, analysis, and interpretation.

How many people took part?

135 employees of Unilever and its ad agencies, from three cities around the world: New York, London and Rotterdam.

Sampling and Methodology

We conducted the experiment with approval from the UCL ethics committee and followed the standard guidelines for ethical psychology experiments. Moreover, we used a typical pre-post design with a control group. Half of the sample received DNA ancestral information before completing a workshop focused on changing their thinking and improving creativity. The remaining sample was used as a control, undertaking pre and post measures without DNA or workshop interventions over the same time period. The control group matched on location and category experience.

How was this different from Implicit Bias Training?

There are two very unique features to the experiment; DNA testing and the focus on creativity. Moreover, we focused on the cognitive/thinking processes of stereotyping, not on the emotional/feeling processes of prejudice/bias. Most implicit bias training looks at both, but we did not focus on the emotions as much as is typical, choosing instead to try to change people’s thinking about other people, rather than how they felt about other people. We set out to reduce stereotypical thinking amongst our participants in the experiment, and to show increased creative thinking because of it.

What were the results?

We found that these marketeers, compared to the control group, displayed a 35-percent reduction in stereotypical inferences from consumer data. This significant change in stereotypicality scores was based on inferences built on consumer data measures post-experiment compared with pre-experiment. We also saw a significant (27 percent) increase in creativity in the experimental group marketeers. The control group did not mirror either of these changes. Both groups also displayed reduced sexism. The latter is significant because underlying gender bias is often a fixed attitude. Together, these results suggest that it is possible to change stereotypical thinking in brand marketeers, with the potential therefore to change the content of communications to depict less stereotypical representations of consumers.