Breaking Gender Stereotypes in mass advertisements – but only for Christmas


Featuring female drivers in car advertisements is rare while it could attract more attention than the standard setting of ‘him sitting in the driver seat’. Similarly, some iconic marketing figures are implicitly assumed male. Both was challenged by Audi and Lidl respectively – but ‘only’ for special Christmas campaigns.

Let’s change the game – this is the ambitious campaign title under which Audi Spain produced an animated clip showing a doll that decides to drive a car. Not just some random car, but an R8 – the competitive, race-type, challenging, ‘size matters’ model of the Audi family. The advertisement manages to show multiple elements that need to be addressed in order to change the game called gender stereotypical marketing, which – according to many marketers – works just fine. It is maybe for that reason that Audi ‘only’ dedicates their special Christmas advertisement – and only in Spain – to support this discourse. Interestingly, another German company, Lidl, – both have a strong footprint in the tiny village of Neckarsulm – also chose to challenge gender stereotypes in their 2016 Christmas campaign, introducing Santa Clara, the powerful addition to old-fashioned Santa Claus.

Audi: several gender stereotypes uncovered – maybe over the top?

Audi’s approach can be considered very specific and strong in that the film shows a number of (gender) stereotypes each of which needs to be overcome, which requires an effort. There is a wide corridor between the pink shelves (with toys for girls) and the blue shelves (with toys for boys). The doll also has to pass a few vehicles until she sees the Audi R8, which first opens its passenger door to invite her for a ride. While driving around, she passes a muscle soldier drinking coffee, waving (a bit camp?) hello and a pony. She is eventually challenged by a small, formula 1 type of racing car and has to accept the racing challenge. Finally, when a boy wants to buy ‘her’ car, his mother removes the doll but the boy decides that he want her in addition to the car. Wow. That’s a lot of breaking stereotypes, and that’s also the problem of this type of educational advertisement: They often appear in isolated contexts, not connected with the general marketing campaigns, and they accumulate so many messages and examples that it becomes quite heavy to digest.

However, Audi succeeded in drawing attention to existing gender stereotypes covering an unusual breadth of aspects. Audi also offered valuable insights on the website,, which contains bonus content from the short film, more details about the other toys appearing in the ad and the option to order toys from the campaign. The hashtag #CambiemosElJuego (Let’s change the game) promoted the campaign and also led to social media comments questioning what the company was doing during the rest of the year and on other communication platforms about gender stereotypes.

Lidl: feminist lyrics – but combined with mainstream visuals

Lidl, an International discount retailer with more than 200,000 employees, chose a different approach with their Santa Clara advertisement. The #santaclara anthem, sung by Emily Roberts, uses strong words to make the point that the bulk of all the work around Christmas is done by women. The lyrics include the lines ‘Christmas is nothing without us so let us run this’, ‘How come that every year a mister gets the fame? When all the work is done by women in his name?’. And so, the video salute Santa Clara, who’s ‘here for justice’. The retailer was using the clip in several of its countries of operation, including Germany, Italy, Czech Republic and Spain, but only the latter country produced a subtitled version of the ad – making sure that local customers will get the meaning of the song. That might have been a good idea, for the visuals do not necessarily support the clear statements of the lyrics. We see some annoying situations and a cool guy in an old-timer sports car. The group of Santa Clara(s) eventually dominates the scene – but the visual story is not remotely as political as the lyrics.

However, Lidl also managed to position gender diversity strongly and publicly in a relevant context and in an effective way. Due to the International scope, the attention (and expert recognition) was bigger than for Audi. But also Lidl faced some criticism, again on social media – one traditional website, e.g., used the campaign to criticise those (politicians) who had criticised the traditional nature of Christmas.

Ongoing attention to stereotypes required

The current examples show two important aspects: First, gender stereotypes are firmly embedded in society, in families and in marketing. Therefore, we need to raise awareness for existing biases and invest in mitigating them. In addition, marketing and communication should be more self-critical about the need to apply gender stereotypes to reach their goals – or if there are maybe more creative ways to do so? Advertisement in particular could play a decisive role in slowly changing stereotypes – not only regarding gender – by reflecting the diversity of the total consumer markets as well as the openness and inclusiveness of the majority of customers.


Watch the Audi ad on the production company’s channel

Watch different versions of Lidl’s Santa Clara ad (ES) (CZ) (IT)

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