C4 to air RAF gender-equality ad and reinforce diversity push

Spot that won £1m airtime from broadcaster will debut during The Last Leg.

The Royal Air Force will tonight premiere a TV ad during The Last Leg that draws ironic parallels between tired tropes used in advertising to women and the reality of life for its recruits.

The idea for the ad, created by Engine, won Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising contest, which took women as its theme this year. The RAF won £1m worth of airtime, ahead of Cadbury Milk Tray, eBay and Flybe.

Matt Salmon, Channel 4’s head of agency and client sales, said: "This RAF advert clearly illustrates the difference between how women are portrayed in advertising compared to the realities of everyday life for a woman serving in the RAF."

Air vice-marshal Chris Elliot, chief of staff personnel and air secretary for the RAF, said the work allows the organisation to "showcase the vast range of exciting opportunities available, regardless of gender".

Coinciding with the start of the campaign, Channel 4 has announced a new research project that it hopes will provide an ongoing audit of diversity in advertising.

It has commissioned YouGov to examine the 1,000 most-watched ads at a given point in time and track how they portray a number of communities, including women, those with disabilities and LGBT+ people.

Channel 4 will publish the research at the Cannes Lions in June, including a qualitative survey of UK adults’ attitudes to advertising that will inform the theme it chooses for next year’s instalment of the £1m airtime contest.

Early results of the audit show that in ads where women have a clearly defined role or occupation, just over 40% showed women in a "homemaker" or "housewife" role.

Salmon told Campaign that he hoped the audit would help to measure the impact that Channel 4’s contests are having on the type of advertising that UK viewers are shown.

"It’s been hard to say statistically if [the initiative] has made a difference, although emotionally we look at work that other advertisers have done – for example, PayPal and Nationwide are doing great work in this space and hats off to them."

Salmon admitted that one aspect of the initiative that "has not been as successful as we’d like it to be" was how likely the losing finalists in the contests were to use their prizes of match-funded airtime. Over the three years of the contest, none has done so, although Ford did go on to make its entry to 2017’s competition into an ad.

The stumbling block is, according to Salmon, that the runners-up have to spend significant amounts to make the entries into ads before they can benefit from match-funding from Channel 4 (which this year equated to £250,000 per finalist).

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