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Consultation: advertising and stereotypes


CAP, consultation, new rule, guidance, sexual stereotyping, advertisementsTackling harmful gender stereotypes in advertising.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has launched a public consultation on a new rule to tackle harmful gender stereotypes in advertisements, and on guidance to advertisers on how the new rule is likely to be interpreted in practice.

The purpose of this announcement is to make public the proposed rule and guidance, which includes examples of gender portrayals which are likely to fall foul of the new rule.

The consultation proposes the introduction of the following new rule to the advertising codes which will cover broadcast and non-broadcast media:

‘Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.’

The UK advertising industry is governed by Advertising Codes that are designed to protect consumers and create a level playing field for advertisers.

The Codes are the responsibility of two industry Committees – the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and are independently administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) writes the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing (the CAP Code) and helps enforce ASA rulings.

This consultation comes after a report published by the ASA published last year – Depictions, Perceptions and Harm which provided an evidence-based case for stronger regulation of advertisements that feature certain kinds of gender-stereotypical roles and characteristics.

These are advertisements that have the potential to cause harm by contributing to the restriction of people’s choices, aspirations and opportunities, which can affect not only the way people interact with each other but also the way they view their own potential.

There are already rules on offence and the social responsibility to ban advertisements that include gender stereotypes on grounds of objectification, inappropriate sexualisation and depiction of unhealthily thin body images.

But, the ASA said, the evidence did not demonstrate that the use of gender stereotypes was always problematic or that the use of seriously offensive or potentially harmful stereotypes in advertising was endemic. The rule and the guidance therefore seek to identify specific harms that should be prevented, rather than banning gender stereotypes outright.

The consultation on guidance to support the proposed new rule change provides examples of scenarios likely to be problematic in future advertisements.

Examples of these are:

An advertisement that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess;

An advertisement that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car;

Where an advertisement features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the advertisements should not imply that their physique is a significant  reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives;

An advertisement that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality – e.g. daring – with a girl’s stereotypical personality – e.g. caring – needs to be handled with care;

An advertisement aimed at new mums which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing; or

An advertisement that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically “female” roles or tasks.

Talking about this, Ella Smillie, who leads the gender stereotyping project for the Committees of Advertising Practice, said: “Our review of the evidence strongly indicates that particular forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children by limiting how people see themselves and how others see them and the life decisions they take.

“The set of standards we’re proposing aims to tackle harmful gender stereotypes in ads while ensuring that creative freedom expressed within the rules continues to be protected.”

And Shahriar Coupal, the director of the Committees of Advertising Practice, said: “Amid wide-ranging views about the portrayal of gender in ads is evidence that certain gender stereotypes have the potential to cause harm or serious offence.

“That’s why we’re proposing a new rule and guidance to restrict particular gender stereotypes in ads where we believe there’s an evidence-based case to do so.

“Our action is intended to help tackle the harms identified in the ASA’s recent report on the evidence around gender portrayal in ads.”

The consultation closes on 26 July 2018.

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