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UK watchdog targets gender stereotypes

News, 18 July 2017
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LONDON: The UK’s advertising watchdog has signalled that from next year there will be tougher regulation of campaigns that feature potentially harmful gender stereotypes.

In a report published today, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) suggests that there is evidence to support stronger rules on the basis that harmful stereotypes “can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults”.

The Depictions, Perceptions and Harm study concludes that a "tougher line" is needed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles, including those which mock people for not conforming.

The new standards will not simply ban all stereotypes, but ads that depict scenarios such as a woman having sole responsibility for cleaning up her family's mess or a man trying and failing to do simple parental or household tasks are likely to be banned.

In the same vein, campaigns suggesting a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls – and vice versa – would face censure.

"Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,” said Guy Parker, ASA chief executive.

"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," he stated.

FMCG brands can be especially open to accusations of stereotyping, something both Unilever and Procter & Gamble understand and which they have moved to address in their advertising.

Global research by Unilever, for example, showed that women are overwhelmingly depicted as passive, personality-free figures in ads around the world, prompting it to develop guidelines covering how its brands and agencies deal with issues like role assignment, personality and appearance in ads.

That “unstereotype” mission launched in 2016 (for more details read WARC’s report: Unilever's formula for avoiding advertising stereotypes) is based on sound business sense as ‘progressive’ communications were shown to be more engaging and impactful than ‘normative’ communications.

And at this year’s Cannes Lion Festival, P&G’s Marc Pritchard explained how “we’ve made dad sharing a load in household chores normal in our advertising … because when you make it normal, it starts to permeate in terms of how people think about it”. (For more details, read WARC’s report: Procter & Gamble makes the case for changing gender portrayals in advertising.)

Data sourced from ASA; additional content by WARC staff

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