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ASA commences enforcement on the ban on harmful gender stereotyping

Posted on 16 August 2019

Further to our previous article on the commencement into force of the ban on harmful gender stereotyping, the ASA has recently published three decisions ruling that two adverts depicted harmful gender stereotypes. The decisions are the first pursuant to the introduction of a ban on harmful gender stereotypes in the ASA's CAP and BCAP code.  

The first advert the ASA opined on was in relation to the sale of Philadelphia soft cheese. In summary, the advert depicted two men leaving their children on a conveyer belt at a restaurant whilst they were distracted by the food. Mondelez UK, the brand owner, defended its advert explaining that it had purposefully chosen two dads as it wanted to avoid a gender stereotype of women providing care giving roles. However, this reasoning appears to have backfired as the advert received 128 complaints. The ASA in its ruling explained that despite Mondelez UK's intentions for the advert to be light-hearted, instead the advert came across as depicting men as hapless and unable to care for their children.

The second advert that attracted criticism from viewers was in relation to the new eGolf by Volkswagen. The advert depicted a woman sitting on a bench next to a pram having previously shown scenes of two male astronauts floating in a spaceship and a male para-athlete with a prosthetic leg doing the long jump. 5 complaints were received by the ASA on the basis that the advert perpetrated harmful gender stereotypes as the woman was depicted in a care giving role and the men were depicted in an adventurous role. The ASA ruled that by "juxtaposing images of men in extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role, we considered that the ad directly contrasted stereotypical male and female roles and characteristics in a manner that gave the impression that they were exclusively associated with one gender.”

The third advert, which the ASA dismissed as promoting harmful gender stereotypes, featured a female ballet dancer, a male drummer and a male rower. The dancer was shown as a child and then as an adult practicing in a studio. The drummer was seen playing in a school gym and then on stage. The rower was shown training on a stationary bike and rowing machine and then rowing on a river. The voice-over stated "Rock bottom. The start of the journey. There will be obstacles but it's all about finding a way through, pushing upwards until finally reaching the top…"

Dismissing the complaints the ASA acknowledged the stereotypical activities depicted by each gender but considered that the advert was focussed on the characteristics of each activity which were presented in an equal manner. Each of the activities demanded equal levels of drive and talent, and were equally difficult and demanding. Therefore, the advert did not present any stereotype in a harmful manner.

The recent decisions show a heightened awareness of harmful gender stereotyping in advertisements not only by the ASA but the general public as well. When considering the format of advertising it is important to look at the depiction of both male and female roles in the advert overall as well as the general message the advert wants to get across.

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