ASA to introduce stronger regulation of gender stereotyping in advertising

Jo Humphreys

July 18, 2017

Welcome news this morning that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will be introducing tougher rules around gender stereotyping in advertising. According to the ASA, the new rules will aim to protect people from ‘restrictive gender norms’ in advertising, which can go on to permeate real life.

The announcement coincides with the regulator publishing its ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm’ report, which found that tighter regulations were needed to address the potential for harm or offence arising from the inclusion of gender stereotypes in ads.

The research was commissioned following public and media backlash to the regressive 2015 ‘beach body ready’ ad. Complaints were upheld not because of the juxtaposition of its image and strapline, but on the basis of the health and nutritional information that it contained. This highlighted shortcomings in the ASA’s existing regulations and spurred it to develop a stronger, well-evidenced position in future.

What does this mean for brands?

The new report found that while the ASA tends to get it right when it comes to policing adverts that overtly objectify women or depict unhealthy body images, it needs to get tougher with brands that produce ads depicting people behaving in stereotypical gender roles or mocking those who don’t.

The ASA concedes that it won’t be banning all gender stereotypes, as they can be a ‘useful way to tell a story’. For example, ads depicting a woman cleaning or man doing DIY are unlikely to be banned. However, it does highlight the following examples as ‘problematic’:

  • A family scenario with only the woman in the scene clearing up the mess
  • An ad that suggests an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereo-typically associated with boys, or vice versa
  • A man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks

The ASA rules won’t change overnight, but advertisers should look out for further updates which are going to be announced before the end of the year. Once they do come into force, controversial adverts will be judged by the ASA on a case-by-case basis.

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