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All men love sport and jumping out of planes, whilst women are made to be mums and just LOVE cleaning. Well, you can now wave goodbye to be being drip-fed those tropes in ads, thanks to the ASA. In a bid to remove gender stereotyping from advertising, the Advertising Standards Agency has introduced legislation that means ads found to breach their new rules will be pulled from the air. The ban on ads that promote ‘harmful gender stereotypes’ came into effect in June, with adverts from Philadelphia and VW amongst the first to be banned. 

The accompanying guidelines highlight the possible ways in which creative can breach the regulation, including males failing in stereotypically female roles, people failing a task directly because of their gender, and targeting new mums to prioritise appearance and household chores over their emotional wellbeing. The legislation goes beyond just TV advertising, covering broadcast and non-broadcast media, including social advertising and beyond.

Guy Park, Chief Executive of the ASA, spoke out about the prospective damage of gender stereotypes in advertising, stating:

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society”.

So what do the ads under fire look like? Well, the issue with the Philadelphia advert is obvious from the off. It portrays two dads struggling to look after their young children, leaving a baby on a conveyor belt whilst they focus on lunch. The ad contributes to the narrative of male parents as ‘baby sitters’ or ‘part-time parents’, whilst women are often positioned as the full-time caregivers. Showing men as incompetent parents breaks the rule of not showing someone failing a task due to their gender. The advert received over 100 complaints to OFCOM before it was pulled.

The VW advert begins with a woman sleeping and a man zipping up a cliffside tent, followed by male astronauts at work and a male Paralympian competing in the long jump, before finishing with a shot of a woman sat by a pram. The advert received less immediate complaints, however, it breaches the new rules by presenting genders in stereotypical ways, e.g. men as brave and daring, whilst women are shown as caregivers.

Both Philadelphia and VW have been told they won’t be allowed to broadcast their adverts again in their current format. For brands spending millions on creating and promoting these campaigns, it’s more important than ever to get it right from the off. Does that mean not taking any risks? Looking at the Philadelphia ad from another perspective, had they used women, would that still have been classed as gender stereotyping? Would it have been better to feature a mixed group of genders? Mondelez UK argued the ad showed male parents taking an active role in caring for their children. But perhaps the problem lies in lazy marketing.

Ella Smilie from the Fawcett Society, an organisation which campaign for women’s rights, said:

“It’s about time advertisers woke up and stopped reinforcing lazy, outmoded gender stereotypes”.

After all, no one (male or female) would genuinely get so distracted by lunch that they put their child in danger. As advertisers, we’re responsible for the messaging we promote, subconsciously or otherwise. One of the first to actively make a stand, Unilever’s Marketing Chief Aline Santos has stated they will ‘distance themselves from agencies that don’t challenge stereotypes’ and will voluntarily pull ‘regressive ads’. They’ve been working with internal teams to better educate on fair representation, as part of their Unstereotype initiative.