Brands’ Portrayal of Women in Advertising Affects Their Purchase Decisions

November 13, 2023

More than 3 in 4 (77% of) American women ages 18-49 believe it’s somewhat or very important that women are presented authentically in media, and more than 7 in 10 (71% of) women ages 50 and older concur, according to a report from the AARP. Despite that, most say they rarely or never see themselves in the women that media and advertising are presenting today, per the results.

This is particularly the case for older women. Among respondents ages 50 and older, fully two-thirds (68%) said that they rarely or never see themselves in the women that media and advertising are presenting. That compares with half (51%) of women ages 18-49 who feel that way.

In fact, respondents to this latest AARP report feel that older women ages 50 and older are presented authentically in media and advertising less than a third of the time (32%).

The results bring to mind previous research from the AARP, in which women ages 50 and older were more likely to feel that older women are portrayed negatively (21%) than positively (18%) in advertising.

Prior to that, other research had found that accurately portraying women in advertising was one of the leading ways in which brands could advance gender equality. The vast majority of women across age groups are positive about the inclusivity movement in media and advertising, according to this latest research, with younger women most enthusiastic about it.

That may be because younger women are more likely than their older counterparts to say that they tend to compare themselves to the women presented in media and advertising (44% vs. 20%), and to tend to look for people who look like them (44% vs. 28%).

How women are portrayed in media and advertising impacts beauty standards for women, per the respondents. Some 72% of respondents ages 18-49 and 73% of those ages 50+ agree that media in general dictates beauty standards for women. The younger bracket is more likely than the older one to believe that social media dictates such standards (74% vs. 56%), while the older group is more likely to feel that advertising dictates beauty standards (53% vs. 42%).

With media and advertising having this impact – and lacking authenticity – brands can run into problems with ignoring or misrepresenting women. For example, about 7 in 10 women say they would be much less likely (27%) or somewhat less likely (42%) to purchase from a brand in the future if the brand – that they typically buy from – presented advertising that they felt ignored or mis-represented them.

On the flip side, about 3 in 4 (74% of) women would be more likely to buy from brands that feature people with different body shapes in their ads, and close to 2 in 3 (65%) would be more likely to buy from brands that feature a mix of cultures and backgrounds in their ads.

For more, check out the full report here.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 7,368 women ages 18+ (3,782 ages 18-49 and 3,586 ages 50+).


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