ASA to crack down on gender stereotypes in ads

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The ASA has released a new report titled Depictions, Perceptions and Harm, following a major review into gender stereotyping in advertising. Whilst it is largely aimed at TV and poster advertising it’s worth remembering that your website and product pages as well as marketplace listings can be classed as adverts.

The main thrust of the report isn’t (as some of the papers would have you believe) to ban adverts showing women looking after their house or men painting the garden fence. The aim is to present a less stereotyped outlook reflecting the modern world and suggests that balance is required.

“It would be inappropriate and unrealistic to prevent ads from, for instance, depicting a woman cleaning, but new standards on gender stereotypes might elaborate on the types of treatments that might be problematic — for example:
An ad which depicts family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up.”


What’s interesting here is I don’t know anyone who would deny that men can cook, clean and change a baby’s nappy, nor that women can drive a train (actually I know one MP that finds this amazing), mend a fence or take the bins out. Indeed in today’s world with so many broken families often there is only a woman or a man in the household who have to do everything.

It’s also true that no matter how much society would like to deny it, in households up and down the country women and men still often have defined roles – just take our PM Theresa May’s recent interview where she said that there are “boy jobs and girl jobs” and Mr May nodded in agreement adding “I definitely do the taking the bins out, I do the traditional boy jobs by and large”.

What’s doubtless also true however is that advertisers have in the past tailored their adverts, fine tuned their messages and know darn well that often it’s the woman who will decide what food a couple’s babies will eat and, whilst they might send their man to buy it they’ll be in a whole heap of trouble if they come home with the wrong brand.

It’s interesting in itself that the ASA unconsciously acknowledge the different stereotypes in their report. There is no mention of banning an ad with the scene of “Family members creating mess while a man has sole responsibility for cleaning it up”. The report starts out with the preconception that either a woman will clear up the mess or at best that it should be depicted as a joint responsibility. They do say that you can’t show an ad depicting a man failing to complete basic household chores. They also ban gender roles suggesting that (as was the case in an Apitmil baby formula ad) boys will grow up to become engineers whilst girls are destined to be ballerinas.

What does the ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm’ report mean for your business?

So what does this mean for you and your online business? Well if your product shots are the traditional product on a white background type of shot and your description is limited to the features and functionality of the item on sale then you have nothing to worry about. However if you have lifestyle shots or produce videos to promote your products you should consider the ASA’s guidelines and think about gender stereotyping (which I admit this article is full of).

Report conclusions

The main thrust of the report is not to deny that men and women often still take on different roles and acknowledges that “evidence from all three spheres [social, political and economic] strongly suggests that many aspects of UK society remain unequal for men and women“. The main aim is to “tackle ads that include gender stereotypes that, subject to context and content considerations, have the potential to cause harm“.

The ASA report concludes that “the overwhelming majority of ads do not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence. But some ads do, and, on the basis of this report and in keeping with their regulatory responsibilities, the ASA system is committed to affecting change“.

New rules will be drawn up and come into effect next year but you don’t want to have to reshoot your product videos so consider your briefs for future ad creation now.

9 Responses

  1. I wish that the ASA would put as much effort into identifying false advertising rather than on inconsequential fluff such as this.

  2. This won’t effect me. But I’m waiting for men to be made “less visible” on auction sites for the sake of gender equality. (See previous research on ebay earnings etc). Don’t think it couldn’t happen.

  3. They will have to get rid of the knight on horseback from the Reed recruitment advert, far too stereotypical.

  4. Experience has taught me that the people who complain about this type of stuff are those who are lacking in confidence about their own gender and its place in society.
    If I saw an add depicting a family making a mess and the ‘woman’ having to clear it up it would make me think I need to do more housework and not leave it all up to my wife, because like it or not, that is life and it won’t change as long as we humans have a hole in our bum.
    The PC brigade make me sick, they need to ‘man’ up and get some backbone to cope with life’s little insults. Oh but I can’t say ‘man up’ can I?
    Needs to be ‘none specific gender person up’…. But that just doesn’t sound as good.


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