'Wallet activism' needed over gender stereotype regulation

"If society doesn't buy sexism, brands will have no choice but to stop selling it."

"Wallet activism" is more powerful than regulation, an ad executive has argued in the wake of new rules that ban marketers from presenting gender stereotypes.

The move, announced by the U.K.’s Committee of Advertising Practice earlier this week, outlaws gender stereotypes that "are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence" and applies to all broadcast and non-broadcast advertising codes from June 14 2019.

The ruling has been met with mixed reviews. Samantha Skey, CEO of SHE Media and the creator of the #Femvertising Awards, spoke of the detrimental impact this will have on creativity and why a fresher approach is needed.

"I have been, and continue to be, supportive of the ongoing movement toward accountability in advertising," she told Campaign US. "It is way overdue and equal representation of gender identities is essential to shaping a more just society.

"I believe, and data supports, that gender stereotyping ads influencer personal and public expectations and can have detrimental impact to both women and men. It has been proven that girls’ health and self esteem are directly impacted by the ads and media they consume.

"However, I am not in favor of formal regulation of advertising creative. Word bans rarely work to change sentiment and can just teach offenders to hide."

Skey said that the impassioned dialogue generated by sexist ads has great value and argued that squashing brands’ inherent sexism is not as productive as the conversation that ensues when they get caught in their bias.

"Regulations may protect some from the influence of the images but will not necessarily squash the sentiments that cause the industry to create and sell through a sexist lens," she continued.  

"Companies and consumers should be the drivers of equality in advertising, and companies who promote sexism through their images and language should be called out by industry peers and by customers.

"As long as sexism sells products, it will persist in product marketing -- be it design and packaging or promotion and advertising. Wallet activism is the single best way to change the way that companies behave. If society doesn’t buy sexism, brands will have no choice but to stop selling it."

The U.K.’s advertising body has published guidance for marketers on scenarios that are likely to be problematic, such as: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 and; 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.

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