UK Gap is coming under fire for their new back to school ad which is, according to critics, sexist in its depiction of boys and girls.
Looking at the ads, it’s easy to see what went wrong – while the creatives behind the ad most likely weren’t trying to be sexist, I would suggest that they just weren’t trying. Instead of attempting to come up with creative ways to describe the kids, and by extension the clothing they are trying to sell, they instead fell back on well worn stereotypes.
In marketing and advertising, as in life, we tend to use stereotypes as a shortcut. An easy way to get our point across at a time when we are competing for eyeballs and attention. But what we also may be doing is unintentionally reinforcing attitudes and unconscious biases. For example, in this ad from the Gap, they are not saying girls aren’t smart, or can’t do math, but what they are doing is reinforcing the stereotype that girls are “social butterflies.”
Visiting the Gap’s website, we find two more adorable toddlers, but only one label and description that avoids stereotyping – can you spot it?
The Adventurer: Layer your dresses and jeans. Lessons learned – be yourself.
So what could Gap have done? Keep the pictures – change the labels. Ask the kids (or kids you know) for what labels they may use for themselves. For example, our son may call himself a gamer, a lacrosse player and a good friend, where our daughter might go with cyclist, singer or “tough cookie.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. Coming up with messages that are new and different, while still being compelling and effective, takes time, effort. But as is often said, nothing worth doing well is easy.