UK’s ASA sets out to ban gender stereotypes in ads

Right then, some time in the future UK advertisers and agencies won’t be able to show ads featuring:

*Family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up.

*The suggestion that a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa.

*A man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

Why? Industry watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority has declared war on “gender stereotyping,” to protect children (among others) from “restrictive” gender norms.

Researcher Ella Smillie says: “(The research) demonstrates that gender inequality is an issue for society at large, and that stereotyping can play a role reinforcing this. Advertising is not the only influence but does play a role, and it’s right that we identify where there’s a potential for harm.”

The Committees on Advertising Practice (CAP) which produces the rules the ASA administers says that the new standards are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes, as they can be a “useful way to tell a story.” For example, ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks probably won’t be banned – well that’s a relief. The vexed question (for some) of LGBT representation in ads has been kicked into the long grass for now.

Will anything change, whenever the new rules come in? Most advertisers are falling over themselves to be what we used to call whiter than white anyway. ASA bans are nearly always retrospective so the baddies can still probably do it once.

Protein World caused a furore in some quarters with its notorious ‘Beach Body Ready’ tube cards a while back (nearly 400 complaints to the ASA, which is a lot by ASA standards) but it’s the exception rather than the norm.

The danger is that the ASA will find itself meddling in matters of taste rather than decency (in its widest sense). Most funny ads (and they’re a species in decline) depend on stereotyping to a degree because most jokes do.

As to the pressing matter of kitchens, most ads set in kitchens these days seem to feature men – which is a sort of reverse stereotyping. From now on do these guys need to be good cooks?

CAP/ASA probably needed to step into this minefield sooner or later but they may wish they hadn’t.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. I do not identify with the LGBTP ( Lesbian, Gay, Bi.sexual,Transgender, Peadophile ) brigade, and if I see any of my present preferred products advertised by these gender benders then I will no longer buy them because I do not want to be associated with these Identity Association sufferers.