Despite recent efforts to increase diversity and representation in advertising, a new study by creative asset logistics specialist Extreme Reach has found that the proportion of male to female characters in UK ads remained largely unchanged between 2019 and 2022, with men still being cast more frequently than women.

The study, which used facial recognition and machine learning technology to analyse more than 100,000 UK ads, found that 60% of people in video ads last year were male, and that the trend for more male than female voices to be heard was also on the rise. This is despite the fact that the UK’s male population is only 49.4%.

However, Extreme Reach noted that the UK is not an outlier by global standards, with only East and South East Asia having ads that closely mirrored its population split. The study did not examine how male and female characters were portrayed or their comparative prominence within ads, nor did it track changes in representation by ethnicity.

Extreme Reach has tracked ethnic representation but is withholding the figures while it works with industry organisations worldwide to ensure its analysis is “relevant and accurate”.

Some commentators, such as ad creative and author Dave Trott, have suggested that the continued higher quantity of men in ads is due to “laziness and habit”, with the default setting for people in ads having always been “white, male, 40-ish”. Meanwhile, ISBA’s inclusion co-lead Vanessa Vidad contrasted the findings with the advertiser body’s own tracking data, which shows that female representation in ads has been viewed positively.

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