Is adland's gender politics dated?
A view from Sue Unerman

Is adland's gender politics dated?

"Um, excuse me, but the client would like to see him with his top off."

The first and only casting session I ever attended was for the Ajax house-proud hunk. I had been involved in every stage of the pitch and idea. It was for a new cleaning product that did not require a second wipe: after you sprayed your kitchen surface and wiped, there was no need to do so again with a wet cloth.

The agency that we were pitching with showed us early ideas that involved what mums and housewives could do with the time saved. As I remember, they included learning French and playing a round of golf.

I was fresh from doing some research into mums in the UK. I had spoken to those working only in the home as well as those with full- and part-time jobs. One thing was clear: they were not going to learn French in the time saved from wiping a surface. Indeed, many of them were already "saving" that time because they didn’t do a second wipe. (Who does?)

But the benefit would sell and an ad campaign would ensure that the product had shelf room. After I explained my problem with the concept to the rest of the team, the creative director asked: "What is it that housewives do want, then?" I replied: "For someone else, anyone else, to do the cleaning."

From this came the idea of the "house-proud hunk". The ad showed a hunk (obviously) cleaning someone’s kitchen with the slogan: "Save him time cleaning – get him new Ajax!"

I went along to the casting session, where the client said to me, in a whisper, to ask the producers if the models auditioning could take their shirts off.

Years later, once again we seem to have gone backwards: cleaning ads no longer feature fantasy hunks doing the housework for hard-pressed housewives but housewives dancing with joy after cleaning their own floors or scouring the house so it could be ready for their "prince". A recent poll from News UK found that the ad industry is "still portraying women in subservient roles while men are depicted as powerful".

Who cares if the advertising is effective at selling stuff? Well, women care, for a start. One of the most notable points in my research was that women notice how they are depicted and feel criticised and judged by it much more than men do. Reflecting women’s real roles in life will lead to a competitive advantage versus other brands – so, if I were writing ads, that’s what I would do.

As Richard Huntington, the chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, said of a recent Mumsnet study: "Advertisers are still stuck in the rut of seeing mums in the role of cook, cleaner and nurse – while dad has fun playing outside and getting messy with his kids. We need to focus less on the drudgery if we are to reflect the reality of modern mothers."

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom