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This article sets out information on the first rulings that the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has made in relation to ads and gender stereotyping.


Since 14 December 2018, when new rules were brought in by the ASA, businesses “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence” in their advertisements.  This rule was adopted by the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP) Code in June this year.  It is therefore the case that businesses must comply with these new rules when it comes to advertising.


Putting the CAP and BCAP Code into action

There have been a couple of recent cases where the ASA have made rulings in relation to ads and gender stereotyping, which highlights to businesses that the ASA will take matters of this nature seriously and action taken if they deem it necessary.


A recent case involving Volkswagen Group UK Ltd resulted in an adverse ruling by the ASA against Volkswagen Group UK Ltd.  An ad by Volkswagen Group UK Ltd was complained about (by only 3 complainants) as it was believed that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by showing men engaged in adventurous activities in juxtaposition to a woman in a care-giving role.


Volkswagen Group UK Ltd responded to the complaint saying that its ad was focused on the ability of the human spirit to adapt to challenges and change.  Despite this argument the outcome was that the ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in the form complained about.


The ASA told Volkswagen Group UK Ltd to ensure its advertising did not present gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm.  The ASA ruled that the ad was in breach of the BCAP Code rule 4.14 (Harm and offence).


This is not the only ruling the ASA have made in relation to ads and gender stereotyping.

The ASA also made a ruling against Mondelez UK Ltd.  There were 128 complaints about a TV ad for the soft cheese Philadelphia.  The TV ad, launched in June, featured two dads (one having been handed their child by a female) that accidentally leave their kids on a conveyor belt.  Both dads notice Philadelphia bagels circling around on a conveyor belt.  As they rush to grab the food both fail to notice that their babies are now also circling the belt.  After grabbing his child from the conveyor belt, one dad tells the other “don’t tell mum!”

The complainants believed that the ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype by suggesting that men were incapable of caring for children and would place them at risk as a result of their incompetence.

The outcome was that the ASA told Mondelez Ltd to ensure their advertising did not perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes, including suggesting that stereotypical roles or characteristics were always uniquely associated with one gender.

The ASA found that the ad was in breach of the BCAP Code rule 4.14 (Harm and offence) and the CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.9 (Harm and offence).


What businesses need to consider when creating ads

These rulings highlight that it is crucial that businesses comply with relevant UK rules around advertising.  We recommend that due diligence is done in relation to the rules before spending time and resource so as to avoid ads having to be pulled or adapted.

The take away message here is that “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”*.  This is clearly a wide area and further advice may be required to ensure advertisers fall on the right side of the rules.


Advertising industry view

Industry experts such as the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) have commented that the ASA’s first rulings under the new gender stereotype rule are ‘surprising and concerning’.


Despite the IPA welcoming the introduction of the new rule around gender stereotyping and ads, they have commented that the ASA rulings raise questions and could potentially cause confusion in the advertising industry as to how agencies feature people going about their daily lives.