Mars Inc. has been elevated to vice chair of the Unstereotype Alliance, an effort it co-founded in 2017 with Unilever and UN Women to remove harmful stereotypes from advertising and marketing.
The company will be represented by Fiona Dawson, global president of Mars food, multi sales and global customers, on the Unstereotype Alliance board.
As one of the top 10 advertising spenders globally, Mars is “very aware of our responsibility as an advertiser of how we represent women on screen and in adverts,” said Michele Oliver, global VP of corporate brand and purpose at Mars, who will serve as deputy vice chair on the Unstereotype Alliance’s board.
The Unstereotype Alliance was founded after a 2017 report by the Geena Davis Institute and J. Walter Thompson analyzed 2,000 films from the Cannes Lions archives and found rampant gender bias in advertising and marketing messages.
According to the report, men got four times more screen time in advertising than women, and spoke seven times more than women. Fewer than 3% of ads featured only female voices.
“It was quite shocking that, as an industry, our representation of women in advertising was really poor, typically because women make the purchasing decisions,” Oliver said. “We had some sort of 1950s model of what women were and did.”
The Unstereotype Alliance brings together major corporations to tackle systemic inequities in brand communications collectively. As part of the effort, Mars runs a global audit of “every single ad we run in every single country” to measure representation and stereotypes, Oliver said.
“You don't know if you've made progress until you measure,” she added.
As vice chair, Mars wants to get more marketers involved in the Alliance while setting the agenda for the next two to three years. While progress has been made in female representation over the past four years, “there's a long way to go,” Oliver said, particularly in representing women through an intersectional lens.
“This isn't just about middle class white women. It's about all women,” she added. “Intersections of women are typically even worse represented.”
Mars and the Unstereotype Alliance also want to ensure accurate and diverse representation doesn’t just exist in front of the screen, but behind it as well. Mars talks “explicitly” with agencies about diversity within their team structures and holds them accountable to matching its own diversity targets, Oliver said. The company also does inclusive training with its agencies.
“By focusing on what's in the advert, you're focusing on the symptom,” Oliver said. “The bigger question is, why is that happening and what's the cause?”
Mars uses a triple bid process to ensure at least one minority-owned agency is in the running for its account. While some view this approach as controversial because it places minority-owned agencies in a bucket, Mars views it as a way to fight against a rigged system.
“It's very unfortunate that there's a perception it undermines talent because you're there by definition of the fact you have to be a minority,” Oliver said. “That's not how I see it. I see it as a rectification of a system that's rigged against minorities and we are rebalancing it to be fair.”
Gender diversity has been a big focus for Mars over the past few years. The company, which is committed to achieving gender parity on its leadership team and in including gender balance in its supply chain, launched a campaign in January called “Here to be Heard” that collected personal stories from 10,000 women.
The company also renamed its Uncle Ben's brand in September to Ben’s Original after the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the U.S. to correct for the brand’s harmful stereotypes of African Americans.