Say goodbye to downtrodden mums in ads

Say goodbye to downtrodden mums in ads

The industry is expected to see new rules on gender stereotyping in advertising following the release of an ASA report. It's about time.

What was your relationship with your grandfather? Whenever we visit my mum’s parents in Manchester, my granddad is always ready to feed us. When I was little, he used to do this fantastical fried mix of cheese and onion. It wasn’t the most sophisticated dish but, mopped up with a couple of slices of Warburtons Milk Roll, it was a great treat. He’s since moved on to putting on a buffet.

I’m not sure if it’s memories of my granddad’s culinary exploits – or the fact that my dad does most of the cooking at home – but I struggled with Mother’s "Cooks" ad for Ikea last year. In it, the grandmother and mother of a girl leave her in the unqualified clutches of her grandfather, with the imploration not to forget her lunch. Despite the spot being stylistically impressive and deftly directed, and the story being lightly told, I could never stop myself baulking at the idea of a man in his old age being tested by the simple task of making lunch.

So it was with some interest that I read the Advertising Standards Authority’s report on gender stereotyping this week. Depictions, Perceptions and Harm provides stacks of evidence for stronger regulation for ads portraying stereotypical gender roles, including those that mock people for not conforming. Among the depictions the ASA lists as potentially problematic in the future is an ad that "features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks".

The report follows the public’s reaction to the Protein World furore in 2015. Oh, for a time when it was Tube ads rather than things the chancellor and the US president said that most upset feminists. If you can remember, the ad was actually banned for the health claims it made about its Slimfast-esque shakes. But most people who complained were simply cross with the image of a thin, bikini-clad woman in a provocative pose being accompanied by the question: "Are you beach body ready?" 

This new report provides the Committee of Advertising Practice with evidence to update its rules on ads portraying gender stereotypes that might – through their content and context – be potentially harmful. The report stops short of recommending that CAP bans work featuring women cleaning but it will force brands to think twice before depicting a woman single-handedly cleaning up all the mess created by the family. Could this be the end of Christmas ads showing downtrodden mums shouldering the burden? I’m looking at you, Asda.

No-one needs me to say that gender is increasingly complex. People have different views and complaints should be considered rather than upheld without examination. We had a situation of our own recently when a junior member of the industry took umbrage at something a senior figure had chosen as their secret work weapon. As a practical guide that takes current rules further but uses "harm" as its measure, the new rules should guide brands and their agencies to do the right thing over gender.

Let’s have more dads making their heartbroken daughters shepherd’s pie and fewer granddads resorting to tinned soup.

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign.

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