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21st Century Girls

During Engine’s 21st Century Woman event yesterday, surrounded by a collection of clients and colleagues, listening to a captivating panel of women including Stella Creasy MP and Kate Dale of #ThisGirlCan fame, I found myself reminiscing about bedtime stories with my 4-year-old daughter from the previous evening. No, it wasn’t being on the 6th floor of Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road that got me thinking. I was still very much tuned into the discussion on how women are depicted in marketing and popular culture. But my conscience had been pricked by the realisation that I was part of the problem under the spotlight – in the same way that panellist Harriet Hall (Features Editor of Stylist.co.uk) had caught herself asking ‘What’s her name?’ when a friend said she had found a new cleaner. Do the seemingly innocuous bedtime stories I have been reading to my daughters propagate the very same outdated gender stereotypes that were being laid waste by the panel?

So last night, on the eve of International Women’s Day, I decided to check the bookshelves at home. And there it was: gender stereotyping writ large in oversized text and pretty illustrations of domesticated women and hard-working men. Mums doing household chores. Dads fixing things. A preponderance of male central characters. Even the anthropomorphised animal characters were overwhelmingly male and heroic. It was more proof, as if any were needed, of the antiquated way gender roles are depicted in popular culture.Engine’s 21st Century Woman study had a very particular take on who shares blame and who has the responsibility to improve the situation: the marketing community. The research, compiled over 12 months, with input from 1,000 UK women, had some pretty damning evidence of how brands are failing to accurately portray women through marketing. 76% of women think that brands are not representing them properly, and 40% of women cite advertising and the way brands talk to them as one of the most likely reasons to be self-critical.The research also showed that 86% of women enjoy being a woman (yes, that means 14% don’t) but 45% find it difficult, primarily as a result of institutionalised sexism. Marketing at large is not just failing to address the issue of ‘damaging and dangerous gender stereotyping’ (Harriet Hall), but helping embed it in society. According to Stella Creasy, ‘advertisers are the front line of a cultural war’, and most of them seem to be on the wrong side.

Day job aside, as a father of two 21st Century girls, this is all pretty troubling. Until yesterday, I thought my parental efforts against gender stereotyping had been relatively robust. My wife and I chose a neutral colour for the nursery. My daughters are subjected to a fair amount of ‘male’ sports such as cricket and rugby on TV. The All Blacks are their favourite team (it’s more about the "pre-match dancing" than backing the winning team), and if New Zealand are not playing, the 4-year-old will support whoever is wearing blue. I’ve instituted regular ‘cooking lessons with daddy’, which, I tell myself is to make sure they don’t develop gender associations with domestic roles (although if my wife reads this she’ll probably question why that doesn’t apply to the laundry). And I made sure the girls' first trip to a major sporting event was to see professional über-talented women play, at The SSE Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley. I’m not expecting the 1-year-old to have identified any female role models, but it is a memory that will be established in the re-telling.

Granted, the nursery paint colour might ever so slightly be influenced by not knowing what sex our firstborn would be, and there is heavy personal agenda in all the above. I love watching sport. After all, it is part of my job (no, my wife doesn’t buy that line either). In a parallel life I would quite like to have been a chef. But if those personal biases give my daughters a less gendered upbringing and avoid fostering unconscious biases in their little brains, I’m comfortable with the egoism at play.

I’m hoping it will all add up to sense that they can do anything with their lives, without pre-conceived, gender-defined paths. At the moment the 4-year-old self-identifies as a Ninja Turtle and wants to be Leonardo (blue bandana) when she grows up, although I’m wondering if it’s a phase (and now wondering why there aren’t any female ninja turtles...I’m sure the Renaissance had some pretty awesome female role models). She likes tennis, ballet (mixed class), dinosaurs, baking, rugby tackling and anything blue (did I mention that already?), so I'm hoping we've avoided too many gender stereotyping clangers.

The panel discussion highlighted so many areas where I can do more in my day-to-day interactions at home. Bedtime stories is one of them. But if I learnt one thing yesterday above all else, it is that my efforts to avoid gender stereotyping in my daughters' upbringing doesn’t stop when I leave the house for work. It is about making sure any clients or brands I work with reject stereotyping through their marketing and advertising, so the depictions my daughters see challenge the status quo. There was so much sense spoken yesterday, but maybe the panel was wrong about one thing – social media isn’t the front line of female oppression. It’s bedtime stories.

VIDEO: The vision of the future

Content. The buzzword of modern-day marketing. Not a day goes by in the office when the word content isn’t mentioned. With all this comes a huge increase in video content, and at a time where one third of online activity is video consumption, brands would be foolish to not ensure that the video content they are producing is engaging, relevant and last, but by no means least, has a purpose.

Yet, with this explosion of online video comes a huge amount of data, which ultimately, is the key to brand success; unlocking audience behaviour, and being informed about what is making an impact. In light of this, I attended an Online Video Data Revolution Talk hosted by Tubular Labs last week where I was able to listen to the success stories and learnings from broadcast and digital experts in their pursuit of doing just that.

Be one of the ‘Lads’

In the room, we learnt tips from the likes of Adam Clyne, COO of The LAD Bible Group, the world's fastest-growing news site for young men. With monthly viewership of 3.7 billion, and ranking second across global media properties (according to Tubular Lab’s August statistics), The LAD Bible is a great example of a brand born out of social media channels, mainly Facebook, which meant the pressure to create engaging video content was vast.

Clyne was quick to acknowledge that the ‘relatability’ of The LAD Bible’s content has been a huge factor in its success. By understanding their audience, the team at The LAD Bible are able to produce video which has the likeability and shareability factor which exponentially increases the likelihood of getting views. Elements like ‘tag a mate’ act as a direct call to action, which often results in a domino effect with audiences’ content participation.

The success of The LAD Bible has also been down to the instantaneous results which they can gauge through social sentiment. Clyne highlighted that more than ever, if the content is wrong for your audience, they are not afraid to comment and call you out on this. This goes for branded content as well, with audiences being savvy enough to acknowledge a brand collaboration when they see it. However, Clyne pointed out that such content shouldn’t be an anomaly within your newsfeed or enable you to “sell your soul” by changing your normal tone for the sake of a brand. Nowadays, it is more important than ever to react to what your audience wants, learn the before and after, and ensure you’re targeting those most engaged with your content.

Leaving Broadcast Behind

With the rise in digital video content, where does this leave broadcasters? Certainly, there is the necessity to keep ahead with the times by creating short-form content which can establish a place on social platforms in its own right. Andy Taylor, co-founder and CEO of LittleDot Studios commended American talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Late Show with James Corden for their ability to master an online presence.

A show of hands in the room proved this point when asked who watches The Late Late Show with James Corden versus who had seen James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke ; more often than not, YouTube sees more views of broadcast content than the programme itself. These types of videos tap into the recipe of success which Adam Clyne spoke of, being easily shareable as well as timeless in their existence on YouTube.

What’s next for video

With the surge in demand for online content, Andy Taylor from Little Dot predicted that in five years’ time, Facebook will consist of strictly video content. For broadcasters to succeed in these times, he predicted that we are more likely to see TV and online collaborations. This is something we have already had glimpses of with the recent partnership between National Geographic and The LAD Bible, whereby National Geographic’s Leonardo DiCaprio-led documentary, Before the Flood ( was broadcast simultaneously on TV and via a livestream on The LAD Bible’s Facebook page.

This form of output is establishing a presence online, particularly for sports fans who have shown themselves hugely engaged with digital and social live streaming, which brings massive opportunities for rightholders and broadcasters alike. Just recently, Andy Murray became the first tennis star to stream a major match live on Facebook from his own page, and Moto GP earned more than 7 million views from a clip of Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi partaking in some ‘epic’ wheelies, demonstrating that the appetite for live sport on social will continue to increase.

Ultimately, it is clear that video content is more important than ever for engaging audiences and creating a loyal fan base for your brand; viewer behaviours are finding new forms of expression all the time, so, more often than not, brands need to adapt quickly and respond. Lastly, it is important to understand that the digital landscape has shifted in such a way that brands are able to reach their consumers without necessarily going through a third party, putting greater emphasis on the brand messages themselves and the way they reach their audience. We’re currently in a shift state, the balance of power for content is moving from broadcast to online, and I for one am excited to see where brands can capitalise from this.