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Adverts reinforcing gender bias to be banned in UK

Advertisements that show hapless dads failing to look after their kids or mothers tidying up the house will be banned for reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes, the advertising watchdog has said.

The Advertising Standards Authority is extending its existing remit, under which it bans advertising that objectifies women and unhealthily thin portrayals of young women.

In a report released on Tuesday and written by the Committee of Advertising Practice, its sister organisation, the ASA argued for stronger regulation of gender stereotypes in ads.

The CAP will use the research to inform its writing of new standards that are due to come into place in 2018.

The ASA wants to move on from out-dated gender stereotypes such as those displayed in this 1952 washing powder advert

“This is a big wake-up call for the advertising industry — but it also highlights a commercial opportunity because when advertisers avoid stereotypes they can really stand out,” said Lindsey Clay, chief executive of Thinkbox, the marketing body for television advertising in the UK.

“The ASA is a very effective self-regulator. It’s certainly got teeth. There is a great stigma among advertisers of having complaints over one of their ads upheld by the ASA.”

The standards will set out the types of content that the ASA will scrutinise, including campaigns that suggest specific activities are inappropriate for boys or girls. As part of its research, the CAP considered several ads that had sparked complaints to the ASA.

In one for Aptamil, a baby milk powder made by a subsidiary of French food company Danone, girls were portrayed as growing up to become ballerinas, while boys grew up to become engineers and rock climbers.

Helen Messenger of Danone, said: “Gender stereotyping is an important issue in our society today and we look forward to the ASA report. As a responsible and diverse business, we will take its findings into account as we develop our advertising in the future.”

In an ad for the US clothing retailer Gap, a boy was shown growing to become an academic, while a girl was depicted growing up to be a “social butterfly”.

US clothing retailer Gap shows a boy as a ‘little scholar’ while a girl is a ‘social butterfly’

Elsewhere, a television ad from KFC, the fast-food chain, showed two men discussing televisions they had just purchased. The first character said: “I just bought a 56-inch plasma.” The second responded: “Awww, adorable. I just bought the 90. Because I’m a man.”

The ASA received complaints for each of these advertisements but did not uphold them as they did not contravene existing standards.

“Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA.

“While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

The ASA is an independent industry regulator and does not have the power to impose fines. It has a range of sanctions at its disposal, including working with internet search companies to remove online ads. UK broadcasters are also required by the terms of their licences to follow ASA rulings.

If the ASA finds an ad is misleading, it can ask the UK’s Trading Standards Authority, a government division, to intervene.

In its 2015-16 period, the ASA considered 1,378 cases relating to the depiction of women and men or both, of which 913 broadly related to women and 465 to men.

One 2015 advertising campaign for nutrition company Protein World, which featured a woman in a bikini and the words: “Are you beach body ready?” brought 380 complaints from the public. The ASA upheld the complaints over its health and nutrition claims.


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