The ASA has launched a consultation on a new rule, and accompanying draft guidance, which tackles the use of gender stereotypes in advertising. The consultation, which closes at 5pm on 26 July 2018, follows its 2017 report on Depictions, Perceptions and Harm which examined evidence on the potential effect of gender stereotypes depicted in advertising.

Issues such as gender neutrality, gender fluidity and gender stereotyping are hot topics, with a number of major brands coming under fire for using what is rapidly becoming out of date advertising. In 2015, Protein World came under fire for its advert exclaiming "are you beach ready?" which depicted a bikini clad woman next to its weight loss products (albeit the ASA rejected complaints based on harm, offence and social responsibility, whilst saying the ad could not run again in that form due to its concerns about a range of health and weight loss claims).

The draft guidance builds on the ASA's current guidance on potentially harmful or seriously offensive depictions of gender stereotypes on the grounds of objectification, inappropriate sexualisation and for depicting unhealthy thin body images. This guidance was built upon the 'size zero' debate in 2013 when a number of fashion houses came under fire for using 'underweight' models in their advertising campaigns.

The draft guidance aims to tackle six categories of gender stereotypes: (i) roles; (ii) characteristics; (iii) mocking people for not conforming to a stereotype; (iv) sexualisation; (v) objectification; and (vi) body image. The style of the guidance is slightly different to other aspects of the CAP and BCAP code as it provides examples of the types of advertisements which would be considered unacceptable under the new rules with only loose guiding principles as to what the code is aiming to achieve.

The new rule and guidance may be simply catching up with the times. Recent adverts from retailers such as ASOS and have shown a more diverse range of models in roles shunning the typical model stereotype. Outside of fashion, supermarket Morrison's fish pie advert depicts a man juggling the morning routine with his kids whilst making dinner for his wife on her way home from a night shift.

The new guidance is a welcome reminder that popular culture is changing and gone are the days where women will solely be advertising cleaning products and men will advertise DIY essentials. However, to have any real meaning, the guidance may need more teeth to provide advertisers with stronger guidance when making a judgment call on whether an advertisement falls on the wrong side of the line.

Given Protein World's advertising advisers, Exterion Media, sought pre-publication guidance from the CAP Copy Advice Team before promoting its advert, outside of extreme cases, gender stereotyping is highly subjective, more so than unhealthy body images. Arguably this is an area that will always be judged on a case by case basis with the new rules and guidance providing the ASA with stronger grounds to rule against offending adverts that attract a number of complaints.

It will be interesting to see if (and how) the draft guidance evolves as a result of any responses received to the consultation.

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