27 Jun 2019

In June 2019, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) banned advertisements that include “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm” or “serious or widespread offence”.

This means advertisers must now ensure potential stereotyping in ads doesn’t have a negative impact on the intended audience.

What has prompted the new rule?

Launched in December 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) review into gender stereotyping in advertising revealed possible harmful effects, such as restricting the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults.

The study showed gender stereotypes contribute to unequal gender outcomes and invite assumptions about adults and children that might negatively restrict how they see themselves and how others see them. There was a strong feeling that a tougher line is needed on ads featuring stereotypical gender roles or characteristics or where people are mocked for not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes. The general perception was that gender roles and characteristics portrayed in advertising were outdated and don’t reflect society today.

What is and isn’t allowed?

The new rule is targeted at specific stereotyping which is likely to be harmful, rather than enforcing a wholescale ban. For example:

Permitted:

  • Ads can still show stereotypical roles, such as a woman cleaning the house or a man undertaking DIY task. However, advertisers must be careful not to suggest these roles are always uniquely associated with a particular gender and or that they are the only available option for that gender.

Potentially problematic:

  • An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies or a woman struggling to park a car.
  • An ad that “connects physical features with success in romantic or social spheres” (i.e. that an individual’s happiness or success depends on conforming to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape).
  • An ad that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g. daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g. caring).
  • An ad aimed at new mothers which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing.
  • An ad that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks.

What’s next?

The ASA will deal with any complaints they receive on a case-by-case basis, looking at the content and context of each ad to determine if the rule has been broken. This includes what medium the ad appeared in, the intended audience and the likely response from the ad.

CAP will review of the new rule in 12 months to make sure it’s successfully preventing harmful gender stereotypes.

For more information about this and other aspects of advertising and selling to consumers, see our page on practical, knowledgeable advice for hassle-free consumer transactions.