So… it’s now over two months since the new Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rule on gender stereotyping in advertising came into force: “marketing communications must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious widespread offence”. The ASA provided guidance for advertisers but with the first rulings delivered, now is a good time to take stock of what it really means.
When the rule was first introduced in June 2019, conversations with our marketing agencies suggested an appetite to embrace this as a positive step in the wider gender equality agenda. But is the new rule really a natural part of the evolution of gender portrayal in advertising or a step too far?
The evidence presented by the ASA makes it hard to argue against the introduction of the rule. Intelligence-gathering told the ASA that societal changes were taking place in relation to gender equality. They knew that advertising was part of the narrative around pervasive gender inequality. The evidence they collated told them that individuals and society are being held back by outdated views of what men and women can do and how they should look and behave – and these perceptions can be reinforced by gender stereotypes. The harm this can lead to is well-evidenced and can be financial, physical or emotional.
While acknowledging that advertising regulation isn’t going to end gender inequality or these kinds of harms, the ASA concluded that advertising regulation should play a proportionate role and stay in step with societal change. Hence the new rule!
What about the first rulings then? These are more controversial. Ads for Philadelphia cheese and Volkswagen have both been banned. One portrays men as unable to look after children properly, albeit in a comical way, whilst the other appears to show adventure as the unique preserve of men, with women confined to more passive roles. In support of the ASA’s rulings, there were a number of complaints in the first instance, but there has also been incredulity expressed by some, describing the bans as “ridiculous”, and a lot of debate in the industry.
While it’s good to know that the rule has teeth, this also very much reinforces the need for us to recognise the stringent nature of its requirements.
However, as we all become more familiar with the gender equality debate, perhaps we can take comfort from a number of factors:
- as the ASA states, the rule is designed to benefit society – by eliminating the kinds of depictions that have the potential to negatively affect the way people interact with each other, the way they view their own potential and the life decisions they take
- from a brand perspective, it has been proven that there are huge financial benefits for brands that can connect with women in a meaningful way – something which the new rule can undoubtedly help with
- and for us at SG, the rule fits with our equality and diversity agenda and reactions to one existing campaign suggest we are already on the right path: 71% of our core audience for the Early Learning & Childcare recruitment campaign agreed that the advertising challenges stereotypes of males and females (Source: Progressive – July 2019)
Let’s see what happens next!
For further information please contact Katherine McIsaac