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The UK’s advertising self-regulatory body (ASA – Advertising Standards Agency) has recently ruled against sexist advertising in several campaigns that perpetuated gender stereotypes. These bans followed the recent adoption of new rules against harmful and offensive sexist advertising in the UK.

In June 2019, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP, the body in charge of drafting advertising codes of conduct in the UK) introduced a series of rules to prevent potentially harmful gender stereotypes in advertising. These rules are designed to prevent inequality that could restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities for children, young people and adults.

The rule on gender stereotypes in advertising, applicable to all media, including broadcasting, the internet and social networks, is worded as follows: “[Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.”

In this context, ASA has banned several advertisements that violated the abovementioned rule. For example, a TV commercial featuring two dads leaving a baby on a buffet restaurant conveyor belt. The ad began with a mother handing over one of the babies to the father. The men chatted distractedly about the food while one of the babies was shown on the conveyor belt. When the father becomes aware of the situation, he picks the baby while the other father says to his child: “Let’s not tell mum.”

After receiving numerous complaints about the advertisement, ASA ruled that it was in breach of the CAP Code. ASA considered that both the opening scene, in which the mother hands one of the babies over to the father, and the final line convey the idea that the fathers have failed to care for the children because of their gender. The humorous purpose was considered central to the harmful gender stereotype portrayed in the ad.

ASA’s interpretation of the new rules leaves no room for harmful gender stereotypes in UK advertising. Therefore, advertisers will have to be more careful when advertising their goods and services in order not to cross the red line drawn up by ASA in its last rulings if they want their advertisements to be broadcast.

By Alicia Costas

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