HomeInsightsAdvertising Standards Authority announces intention to introduce tougher standards on harmful gender stereotypes in ads

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The ASA has published a new report, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm, which it says provides an evidence-based case for stronger regulation of ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics that might be harmful to people, including ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

Responding to the evidence, the Committee of Advertising Practice will be developing new standards on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics. The ASA will then administer and enforce those standards. CAP will also use the evidence in the report to clarify standards that reflect the ASA’s existing position on ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise people or suggest it is acceptable to be unhealthily thin.

The ASA explains that its announcement comes at the conclusion of a major review into gender stereotyping in ads, with evidence suggesting that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults. These stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes, with costs for individuals, the economy and society.

The aim of the review has been to consider whether regulation is doing enough to address the potential for harm or offence arising from gender stereotypes in ads. To date the ASA has ruled that ads that feature gender stereotypical roles or characters are unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to their audience.

To test whether standards are in the right place, the review examined gender stereotyping across several spheres, including body image, objectification, sexualisation, gender characteristics and roles, and mocking people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

The key findings are:

  • the evidence shows support for the ASA’s track record of banning ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise people, and ads which suggest that it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin;
  • but a tougher line is needed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics that can potentially cause harm, including ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes; and
  • the report indicates that the latter should be considered on grounds of potential harm to the audience, banning those gender stereotypes that are most likely to reinforce assumptions that adversely limit how people see themselves and how others see them.

The ASA explains that the new standards are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes. For example, the evidence falls short of calling for a ban on ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks. However, subject to context and content considerations, the evidence suggests the following types of depictions are likely to be problematic:

  • an ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up;
  • an ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa; and
  • an ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

CAP will report publically on its progress before the end of 2017 and will deliver training and advice on the new standards in good time before they come into force in 2018. To read the ASA press release in full and for a link to the report, click here.