The new rule in the Advertising Codes, which will apply to broadcast and non-broadcast media (including online and social media), states:
[Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.
This change follows a review of gender stereotyping in ads by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – the body that administers the UK Advertising Codes. The review found evidence suggesting that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults and these stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes.
Following the review, CAP consulted publicly on specific proposals to ban harmful gender stereotypes in ads, underpinned by the evidence collected by the ASA. The proposed restrictions were supported by a majority of respondents.
The evidence does not show that the use of gender stereotypes is always problematic and the new rule does not seek to ban gender stereotypes outright, but to identify specific harms that should be prevented.
The advertising industry has had six months to get ready for the new rule. The ASA will now deal with any complaints it receives on a case-by-case basis and will assess each ad by looking at the content and context to determine if the new rule has been broken.
Scenarios in ads likely to be problematic under the new rule include:
- An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
- An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car.
- Where an ad features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the ad should not imply that their physique is a significant reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives.
- 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) needs to be handled with care.
- An ad aimed at new mums 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.
The rule and its supporting guidance doesn’t stop ads from featuring:
- A woman doing the shopping or a man doing DIY.
- Glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles.
- One gender only, including in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender.
- Gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects.
CAP will carry out a review of the new rule in 12 months’ time to make sure it’s meeting its objective to prevent harmful gender stereotypes.
Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, said:
“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us. Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential. It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals, and we’re pleased with how the industry has already begun to respond”.