Who Do We See and Hear in TV & Video Ads?

January 30, 2023

TV and video ads have become less diverse in the past few years, and both women and older adults are significantly under-represented relative to their share of the population, according to a study [download page] from Extreme Reach.

The research is based on an analysis of 1 million creative assets from January 2019 through October 2022. Before proceeding, it’s important to note that that the report says “It should be recognized that this analysis only reports on the visual and audio detection of identifiable characteristics. We acknowledge that we cannot analyze, and therefore do not attempt to report on, how an individual may identify in ways that differ from visual and audio detection.”

So here are some key findings.

We See and Hear More Males Than Females

It’s a near-even split in the population, but not so in video ads. According to the report’s findings, in 2022 male cast members outnumbered females visually in TV and video ads on an almost 2:1 basis, at 65.2% share and 34.8% share, respectively.

The 34.8% female representation in 2022 represented a drop from 36.4% in 2021 and 35.8% in 2020, but remained higher than in 2019 (32.2%).

The balance was even more weighted towards males when analyzing audio. In 2022, 73.4% of voices heard in video ads were male, almost three times the 26.6% share that were female. Male representation in the audio of video ads grew in 2022 from earlier years, when male voices accounted for 65% of spoken minutes in 2021, 63.6% in 2020, and 71.8% in 2019.

This continues a long-standing trend for gender inequality in video ads.

The Gender Disparity is More Pronounced in Some Industries

While all large verticals skew towards males in visual and audio representation, that’s more true of some than others. Last year, male visual representation was highest in the Sports vertical, where they represented about 8 in 10 (79.7%) of faces. Male representation was also higher than average in the TV, Film and Music (69.8%), Technology (68.8%) and Automotive (68.1%) verticals, among others, while being below average in the Consumer Goods (56.5%), Pharma & Healthcare (58.1%) and Retail (59%) verticals.

Regarding audio representation, male voices were most apparent in Restaurant ads (87.6% share of spoken minutes) last year, as well as Travel & Leisure (83.2%) video ads. By comparison, women’s voices were most likely to be heard in Retail (48.7% share) and Consumer Goods (43.5%) ads.

Advertisers Really Do Emphasize Youth

For the 2022 period of study (through October), 20-39-year-olds constituted a remarkable 77.7% share of on-screen cast members in TV and video ads, per the report. That’s almost triple their share of the US population, which the report places at 26.7%. All other age ranges are of course under-represented as a result, particularly the 60+ bracket, which accounted for just 1.7% of on-screen cast members, versus almost one-quarter (23.4%) of the US population.

Believe it or not, that’s actually an improvement from years prior. In 2020 and 2019, for example, 20-39-year-olds accounted for just over 80% of the people seen in ads. Extreme Reach notes a “slight ‘aging’ of advertising overall,” but creative still is heavily weighted towards youth.

Older Women Are Largely Left Out of Video Ads

Past research has found that older women don’t feel positively represented in advertising, and maybe they shouldn’t feel represented much at all, based on this latest study’s findings.

While in 2022 women made up 34.8% share of on-screen representation in video ads, that figure dropped to 16.8% share of middle aged adults (40-59) and 19.3% share of older adults (60+).

By contrast, the highest representation for females was in the adolescent (10-19) bracket, where they accounted for 47.1% share of the visual mix. They also had slight above-average representation in the 20-39 bracket, while still accounting for only 38.1% share of the mix for that age group.

Racial/Ethnic Diversity Drops

In 2022, 72.5% of the identifiable on-screen races/ethnicities in video ads were White, compared to their 61.2% share of the population. That 72.5% figure marks a considerable climb from both 2021 (65.6% share) and 2020 (66.8% share), but was slightly below the 2019 figure of 73.6%.

Among other races and ethnicities in 2022, Black cast members were over-represented relative to their share of the population (14.3% vs. 12.7%), but their share of on-screen cast members dropped from the previous year (16.5% share).

Asian cast members were also over-represented last year, at 8.3% share, versus their 6.3% share of the population.

The most significant under-representation was for Hispanics. This ethnicity accounted for just 5% of on-screen representation, compared to their 19.8% share of the US population. Moreover, the 5% representation was a considerable downward step from 2021 (9.6% share) and 2020 (11.7% share), being more in line with 2019’s figures (6.2% share).

Racial/Ethnic Representation More Diverse Among Children

Non-Hispanic Whites are a minority in the US in the Gen Z and Millennial generations, and the age discrepancy in representation appears in TV and video ads also. White cast members accounted for 61.4% share of children (0-9) on-screen in video ads last year, compared to 84% of older adults (60+). As the analysts note, “the composition of white cast members increases steadily from the youngest to the oldest age groups.”

For more, download the study here.


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