Marketers Can Lead the Way to Representation for Women

By Imran Hirani, Nielsen

Over the last few years, the media industry has recognized the need for equitable representation and inclusion. It’s a destiny we’re all mindful of, yet in many ways, we’re not unified in our effort to get there, which limits our forward progress overall. This is where marketers can help by taking the lead to foster faster, more substantial progress.

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The demand for representation and inclusion continues to grow, yet collective momentum remains scarce. In 2021, for example, women had a 43% share of screen and 42% share of casting in U.S. television programming. What’s more, only 31% of measured shows had women represented at fair share. The more surprising fact is that these metrics improved little from the previous year. We know that production schedules and programming were atypical in 2020, but a limited year shouldn’t prevent progress.

We saw more calls for gender equity last month, which was Women’s History Month in the U.S. But the truth is that the industry needs to champion the cause year-round, and marketers are in a prime position to help across the many channels that consumers turn to for their media experiences. In both traditional and streaming formats, much of media is reliant on revenues earned from advertisers. This gives marketers a powerful voice in what content gets produced. If marketers demand more representative media for their ads to be hosted in—and use their ad dollars to assert that demand—supply will follow.

In addition to leveling the playing field in the media industry, advertising in inclusive content gives brands an advantage. We know that consumers are more likely to buy from brands that advertise in programming that represents their own identities. Given the importance of women as a key audience for advertisers, having ads appear in programming that represents women at fair share is a winning strategy.

Marketers can plan their next steps toward a more representative media future by first understanding how their efforts are performing today. For example, a recent Nielsen inclusive ad spend analysis shows that over 31% of health care and consumer packaged goods ad dollars are placed in programming that is representative for women. On the other hand, the electronics and dining industries are among those with the most ground to gain.

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However there is also considerable variation across brands within each industry. In our recent study, the top 25% of brands by inclusive spending allocate more than 43% of their ad dollars in female-inclusive programming. The bottom 25% are investing significantly less.

Marketers can also collaborate with their agencies to increase their ad investments in representative content. With the upfronts on the horizon, now is the perfect time for media buyers to collaborate on this critical business objective. Marketers should also be tracking their growth over time, sharing their progress with their consumers and challenging competitive marketers to match their own progress.

With an eye to investing to support representation, marketers can both earn the trust of their consumers and drive meaningful business impacts.

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