The Committees of Advertising Practice ('CAP') have a launched a consultation to consider their proposed new rule that "advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence" and are welcoming responses until 26 July 2018.

Gender stereotypes in advertising

This consultation follows the Advertising Standards Authority ('ASA')'s report from 2017 on gender stereotypes in advertising, entitled "Depictions, Perceptions and Harm". That report looked at the current CAP rules, the legislative and public policy context, industry initiatives and international advertising regulation in order to evaluate the current state of affairs in respect of gender stereotyping. It also took on board evidence from academics, stakeholders and conducted surveys on public opinion. The results highlighted that more needs to be done on gender stereotypical roles and characteristics portrayed in advertisements. ASA's evidence suggests that some adverts can be potentially harmful where the gender stereotype helps to reinforce consumer's views about how individuals should look or behave according to their gender.

The new rule

The report considers that ASA rulings in respect of body image, sexualisation and objectification have already been handling these issues well. The new rule seeks to tackle other areas more closely related to gender stereotyping. However, rather than banning gender stereotyping outright, the guidance suggests that the new rule will address scenarios such as:

  • an ad depicting a man relaxing at home whilst a woman cleans up the mess;
  • an ad showing a man as brave combined with a woman who is weak. Ads should take care not to directly contrast stereotypical roles or characteristics;
  • an ad that depicts an individual failing a task because of their gender e.g. a man changing a baby's nappy or a woman attempting to park a car;
  • an ad showing a woman prioritising make-up over getting to a work meeting on time. This doesn't prevent the depiction of a woman applying make-up at work, but should be careful to avoid the perception that women should prioritise their appearance over their work; and
  • an ad in which a man is made fun of for displaying emotional vulnerability, or for carrying out stereotypically "female" tasks.

The wording of the new rule and the guidance that accompanies it will not be finalised until after the consultation ends on 26 July 2018. However in any event, marketers should start considering the messages their adverts are portraying in respect of gender stereotypes now.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.