Analysis of more than 100,000 UK ads has found that the proportion of male to female characters on screen remained broadly unchanged at 60:40 between 2019 and 2022.
In addition, the same time period showed a trend for more male than female voices to be heard, rising from 60% male in 2019 to 64% male in 2022.
This outweighs the UK’s 49.4% male population but does not make the UK an outlier by global standards, according to the company behind the study, creative asset logistics specialist Extreme Reach. Only one region – East and South East Asia – had ads that closely mirrored its population split.
Extreme Reach conducted the study by using facial recognition and machine learning technology on publicly available ads.
The figures tell only a partial story on diversity because they do not reflect how male and female characters are portrayed or examine their comparative prominence within ads.
In addition, they do not track changes in representation by ethnicity. Extreme Reach said that it has tracked ethnic representation but is withholding its figures while it works with industry organisations worldwide to ensure its analysis is “relevant and accurate”, given that ethnicity and census designations vary significantly between different regions of the world.
Dave Trott, the veteran ad creative and author, told Campaign he thinks the continued higher quantity of men is due to “habit”.
“The default setting for people in ads was always white, male, 40-ish,” he said. “If you didn't specify what you wanted (if you just wrote 'presenter' on the script), that's what you got. Because they were invisible, anything else was deviating from the norm and making a statement.
“You didn't get such a range of diversity in ads until the IPA – I think – specified it had to happen at casting. Which is why you now see so many mixed-race couples in ads.
“So I think it's just laziness and habit that you have mainly men in ads. It's the opposite of agencies actively specifying men, it's just what happens when you don't specify anything else.”
ISBA’s inclusion co-lead Vanessa Vidad contrasted the findings with the advertiser body’s own tracking data.
She said: “This is an interesting statistic as the ISBA Representation in Advertising Tracker carried out by Opinium, which we have been running for the last three years, shows that female representation in ads has been viewed positively with 72% of all respondents, and 73% of respondents who identified as women, saying that females are represented well in TV ads.
“That said, we know there is still work to be done to ensure advertising is truly representative of society and that’s why the work we do with ISBA members in our Inclusion Network is so important.”
Extreme Reach's global survey analysed a total of two million ads from the past four years. It said: "This large-scale analysis of publicly available creative is only possible with sophisticated AI and machine learning technology."
(This article first appeared on CampaignLive.co.uk)