Sexist advertising. A habit?

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Let us first identify what is called sexist advertising as “any that presents facts, symbols and expressions based on stereotypes of gender roles that associate denigrating characteristics, exclusion, submission, racism, mockery, hostility or any other form of discrimination towards the female gender”.

In the 50s and 60s, when the big advertising campaigns began, it was a usual practice, also considering that the advertising industry was run by men and the majority of the brands were also men. At that time the audiences were not shocked as we would now, unfortunately it was also a reflection of the social context of the moment. Let’s remember the famous television series Mad Men that portrays the situation we are talking about, as well as the enormous difficulty that female characters represented to be able to promote and be taken into account for management positions in the sector, despite demonstrating greater creative capacity with facts. .

Unfortunately this situation has not changed that much, and Mexico is no exception. Although we don’t see ads that explicitly denigrate women so often, we do find many messages that still reflect the macho reality that we live every day. We are so accustomed to discriminatory stigmas that we see it as “normal” that advertisements are still shown where women assume roles that place them solely in the domestic space, as objects of desire for men, who set beauty traits that must be fulfilled to achieve success, or where they are excluded from important economic decisions due to the lack of appreciation of their capabilities.

Despite the fact that it is proven by reliable statistics that the final decision to purchase any type of product rests with women, paradoxically, many brands still do not dare to show more inclusive advertising that is free from gender stereotypes; and those who do it to show “commitment”, “solidarity” or empathy with the issue that is currently being experienced in the country, are so notorious and applauded, precisely because they break with what is established, despite the fact that sometimes they are the same brands that for decades have promoted machismo in their campaigns.

Although there are several public policy initiatives to eradicate this type of advertising, few have been approved and published as official. The Puebla Congress was an exception in 2019 when it endorsed by decree the prohibition of advertising with sexist content, despite being highly criticized by a large group of legislators who confuse it as “an attack” on freedom of expression, without analyzing in depth the implications that it can have in the new generations since the advertising media, due to their influence, are basic elements of reinforcement of sexist stereotypes.

Identifying in advertising the situations in which there is discrimination based on gender, age, social status or ethnic origin can help us to eradicate these models. We find ourselves in a society in the midst of a process of transformation and questioning of established values; As advertisers, it is our duty to avoid discriminatory content in what we propose to our clients, and as an audience, we must demand a change in the discourse of brands.

Guadalupe Zúñiga Elizalde is managing partner of Digitocreativo Publicidad and president of the Sonoran Advertising Association AC. Email:

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