ASA to introduce new guidelines on gender stereotyping in ads

Asda: 2012 Christmas ad featuring a stressed mum was criticised
Asda: 2012 Christmas ad featuring a stressed mum was criticised

Brands will need to adhere to new standards on advertising which features stereotypical gender roles of characteristics.

The move follows the publication of a major review into gender stereotyping in advertising; the Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report, which was published today and contains evidence that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults.

The Committee of Advertising Practice will bring new standards on advertising that feature stereotypical gender roles of characteristics into force in 2018.

According to the report, a "tougher line needs to be taken on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which, through their content and context, may be potentially harmful to people. This includes ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes."

The new standards are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes. For example, the evidence falls short of calling for a ban on ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks. But, subject to context and content considerations, the evidence suggests the following types of depictions in advertising are likely to be problematic:

  • depicting family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up;
  • suggesting a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa;
  • featuring a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

One of the ads that was researched by the ASA's research partner GFK, was the infamous Asda 2012 festive Christmas campaign, depicting a mother doing all the work to make Christmas a success. The controversial ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, sparked 600 complaints on the grounds it was offensive and sexist.

At the time the ASA argued that the TV ad was "not likely to bee seen as condoning or encouraging harmful discriminatory behaviour, or reinforcing negative stereotypes of men or women in general, and, for those reasons, considered it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence’.

Ella Smillie, the lead report author of the research explained that while there are not endemic issues in advertising consumers do not like seeing a lack of diversity in advertising nor stereotypes with the potential to limit expectations. She explains the role of the ASA is not to tell brands what they should be doing but give them tangible examples of what they should avoid.  "Challenging gender stereotypes can lead to creating brilliant creative advertising," she added.

The move follows a major research project from J Walter Thompson New York and The Geena Davies Institute in the Media which analysed 2,000 ads and found that women in advertising  are "humourless, mute and in the kitchen’. According to the research, women are 48% more likely to be shown in the kitchen.

Six categories of gender stereotypes in ads:

Roles: Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender.

Characteristics: Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender.

Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype: Making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way.

Sexualisation: Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner.

Objectification: Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts.

Body Image: Depicting an unhealthy body image.

Source: ASA Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report

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