Gender stereotype images of male and female torsos

ASA Launch Gender Stereotyping Review

03rd May 2016

The Advertising Standards Authority has announced a review of public opinion on gender stereotyping in ads. You can read their full announcement here. It’s clear that this has a broad focus on issues around gender stereotyping, and includes body image and gender specific marketing to children.


This is an issue which has been increasing in prominence in the media in recent years, and not just in the UK. Indeed, Clearcast recently hosted an international training event where Elisabeth Trotzig from Sweden’s Reklamombudsmannen revealed that more than half of all ad complaints in Sweden are about portrayal of gender.


Despite this surge in media interest, there haven’t been many high profile UK investigations into gender portrayal over the last few years. That’s not to say there haven’t been any; around Christmas 2012, there were a number of supermarket ads where mums were highlighted in a variety of ways. An ASDA ad featured the line ‘Behind every great Christmas, there’s mum…’ coupled with visuals of the mum carrying out all the Christmas prep. It ended up as the 3rd most complained about ad of the year with over 600 complaints in total. The complainants objected to the ad on the grounds that it reinforced outdated stereotypes, may cause offence to single fathers or men who played a primary domestic role and could be distressing to children who had lost their mothers. The complaints were not upheld.


The complaint response from ASDA centred around consumer research they’d undertaken, showing that their representation of Christmas chimed with their customers. Advertisers and agencies spend a lot of time and money on consumer research. It’s noteworthy that in ads for cleaning products, for every Barry Scott there are a number of women scrubbing kitchens or floors. Is this because of tired gender stereotypes or because consumer research has played a part in the ad’s genesis?


There are of course huge success stories from recent ads which have challenged or overturned gender stereotypes. Sport England’s This Girl Can is probably the highest profile example, but by no means the only one. Pot Noodle and Money Supermarket have attracted both acclaim and complaints for their work featuring men taking on non-traditional roles.


There have been headlines recently about body image in ads, with upheld rulings against the Velform Miniwaist and a non-broadcast Gucci online ad. Plainly this is an area which the ASA are already aware of and taking action on – whether the review shows their current interpretation is in step with public opinion will be very interesting.


All in all, gender issues seem set to dominate the agenda for the foreseeable future. Whether this leads to a change in ads due to ASA involvement, or organically through brands and agencies undertaking their own research and putting those findings into practice, remains to be seen.