A view from Rob Bassett

It's not just creatives who need to ditch the stereotypes

It's great that we're battling the stereotypes in ads, but we won't win the war until brands apply the same logic to targeting, says Rob...

One of the most striking announcements to come out of Cannes Lions was the commitment from Unilever to stamp out the use of stereotypical ads across all of its brands.

Using the hashtag #unstereotype, Unilever pledged to put an end to the stereotypical portrayal of "vacuous" women currently seen in 50% of its ads.

As brands the world over start to re-think their use of stereotypes, they need to consider not just their creative but also where and how they’re targeting their ads.

Poor targeting doesn’t just lead to poor results – it can alienate potential customers just as much as an ill-conceived concept. In a world rife with brand – and ad – agnostic consumers, it’s simply not enough for marketers to rely on guesswork when it comes to ad placement.

Target rather than stereotype

Stereotyping has become a somewhat throwaway part of our day to day lives  whether it’s grouping masses of the population into baby boomers, millennials or generation Z, or using outdated portrayals of the typical mum or dad.

But when it comes to consumer behaviour, these labels really have no bearing. Advertisers are slowly waking up to the fact that thrusting ads in front of an audience based purely on factors such as age and gender is no longer cutting it.

Here are some insights from eBay’s 19 million UK users, which demonstrate why we need to stop targeting like it’s the 1950s:

  • Spring cleaning: Cleaning is not just for the ladies. When we looked at May searches for giving the house a spring clean, men made 62% more searches for "hoover" and "vacuum cleaner" than their female counterparts, and 88% more searches for "washing machine"
  • The hairy bakers: Similarly, baking is not just for housewives as it may once have been. Men made upwards of 380,000 searches for "cake tins" in August-September coinciding with the launch of the Great British Bake Off
  • Baby boomer brides: Young brides may seem the obvious target for wedding items, but shoppers in the 45-54 age bracket made 25% more searches for "engagement ring" last year than those aged 25-34, and more searches than any other age group for "wedding dress" 

Stop the guesswork

By moving away from the demographics and looking instead at how individuals are actually behaving online, brands can break down audiences into segmented groups and target them according to their personal interests. As the saying goes, you’ve got to give the people what they want.

Take new parents as an example. Rather than targeting blindfolded, and simply serving "new mum" ads to women in their 20s and 30s and hoping for the best, brands need to reach people they know to be parents. At eBay, we can see who is buying maternity clothes in isolation, and is therefore likely to be gifting. And we can see who is buying across categories – we know that someone buying maternity clothes, a pram and nappies is pretty likely to be expecting.

By using observed behavioural data to understand what individuals are buying at different times, brands can then make informed predictions about what those people will be buying next and serve ads accordingly. Not only does this increase ad-effectiveness but for shoppers it means ads serve as a helpful source of inspiration, triggering a boost in brand loyalty.

Be relevant, in the right place at the right time

In a world where ad-blocking is rife, it’s more important than ever for brands to understand their audience. According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism 24% of internet users in the UK are now using ad-blocking software. Shoppers no longer just ignore, but actively opt out of, ads that don’t appeal to their interests.

Being relevant has never been so important. By using insights to see how audiences are engaging across different devices and platforms, smart marketers can become part of conversations already happening between purchase-ready shoppers. Knowing when, where and how to actively engage with shopper audiences helps minimise ad-expenditure and wastage and boosts viewability, triggering by default a spike in ROI.

Regardless of who they are, shoppers today buy the things that appeal to them at the times that suit them. And it’s only going to be the brands that can truly demonstrate they "get" their audience, and reflect it in their ad strategy, that are going to succeed.

Rob Bassett is the head of UK and EU multinational advertising at eBay.