Unilever – the company behind most consumer goods we use – did a DNA experiment to tackle unconscious biases. Some of their marketing staff read their own DNA profiles to find out if their heritage has an impact on how they think and how they stereotype. 

The aim of the exercise, which is a part of a larger initiative programme called “unstereotype”, is to remove bias from advertising. The bias can be in all forms: gender, socioeconomic background, age, or sexual orientation. An example of how they are reducing stereotypes through advertising is the change of marketing strategy in their cleaning product ‘Cif’ by redefining their target audience (traditionally housewive) to anyone who wants to have a “beautiful home”. 

A larger implication of sexism in marketing advertisements is how they can impact the aspirations and choices of adults and children, as reviewed by Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority. The follow-up to this finding is that the agency would ban ads that include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or are offensive to certain groups.  

Read the full article on CNBC: Unilever staff took part in DNA experiment to tackle unconscious bias – here’s what they found out


It is a positive move for Unilever, the consumer goods giant, to initiate change from within its company. As numerous consumer brands are under its charge, the impact on consumers would be significant. It is unthinkable to still have gender stereotypical advertisements in today’s context where most gender norms have been broken, but it can happen unintentionally due to people’s unconscious biases. A check and balance to educate advertisers such as the media authorities is helpful. Recently, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority announced new rules for the advertising industry. 

We may not realise it, but the type of media we grow up with and stories we hear affect how we perceive others – and ourselves. As the diversity and inclusion conversation continues, society at large is attempting to ‘unlearn’ what we have unconsciously learned, so as to embrace and appreciate the value that individuals of different backgrounds can bring to the table. 

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Have you come across advertisement you thought were explicitly, or implicitly, portraying negative stereotypes? 
  2. How do you think these stereotypes can be addressed? 

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘reappraisal’: an assessment of something or someone again or in a different way