In 2017 the Advertising Standards Authority published a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, prompted (among other things) by the hundreds of complaints it had received from the public about Protein World’s 2015 ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign.
That particular advert led a public backlash, with several people posting images of themselves and their ‘ordinary’ bodies in bikinis, vandalism of some the posters, as well as making the advertising industry reflect on how it should be representing women.
The ASA’s 2017 report identified six categories of gender stereotypes in adverts:
- Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
- Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
- Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
- Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
- Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
- Body image – Depicting an unhealthy body image
Two years on from the report and ads are now being banned from UK television for representing men and women in stereotypical ways.
One example is Volkswagon’s recent electric Golf ad which shows men actively doing a range of dynamic activities (such as exploring space) and closes with a woman passively sitting on a bench with a pram, watching the car go by:
A second example is this Philadelphia ad, which was banned for depicting men as poor child carers, with one of them accidentally putting his child on a food conveyor belt in a restaurant:
An effective mechanism for combating gender stereotypes in advertising?
The very fact that the ASA is now censoring ads for representing men and women in narrow stereotypical ways suggests that we should see less gender stereotyping in adverts in the future: now that ads have actively been banned from UK screens for failing to conform to these new standards, it should make ad makers more sensitive to how they represent men and women: it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to avoid stereotyping, after all, and surely most ad makers would rather make ads that can be broadcast as widely as possible, especially in countries with large consumer economies like the U.K.
The limitation of this is that the ASA only has the power the censor in the United Kingdom, not globally, and the U.K. only makes up 1% of the global population!