The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has this week published its report on gender stereotypes in advertising. Launched in May 2016 it was clear from the offset that this would be a wide-ranging review of issues including body image, gender specific marketing to children, perceived gender roles and more. The findings of the report indicate that there will be a change to the rules, or at the very least how they are applied.
The report took in evidence and opinions from academics, interest groups, stakeholders and the general public. The ASA concluded that in matters relating to body image, sexualisation and objectification their rulings are broadly in the right place, though they acknowledged that it would be helpful to formalise its existing position to reflect the evidence. However the report indicates that ads which depict stereotypical gender roles and characteristics, or which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes, have the potential to cause harm and tougher standards may be required.
The report cites the cumulative effect of ads, which might not be a problem in isolation, but create an overall impression that reinforces potentially harmful gender stereotypes. The ASA note that it would be disproportionate to ban all ads that are relatively unproblematic in isolation, and difficult to introduce arbitrary volume restrictions on certain types of ads.
Overall the ASA and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP, who write the advertising codes) consider the report to provide a case to strengthen regulations on the use of potentially harmful gender stereotyping in ads. Their intention is to encourage creative treatments that challenge or reject particular stereotypes in order to diminish the cumulative effect of potential harm.
The report contains a few examples to illustrate the direction they will be taking. Depicting a woman cleaning will not be a problem in and of itself, but an ad showing family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up is likely to be problematic. Similarly, an ad which features a man trying and failing to undertake a simple parental or household task could fall foul of the new rules.
The report is now with CAP who will develop new standards on ads featuring harmful gender stereotypes, and clarify the ASA’s existing position on objectification, sexualisation and body image. We can expect an update before the end of the year.
Read the full report here.