Banning ads that perpetuate gender stereotypes

In August last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of UK banned 2 TV advertisements made for Philadelphia, the Mondelez-owned cream cheese brand and Volkswagen.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) offers guidance to ASA. Using the CAP guidelines, people could complain to ASA when they find some advertisements to be flouting the guidelines. These are the first 2 ads being banned after receiving complaints and ASA checking the veracity of those complaints.

ASA banned the Philadelphia ad, saying that it reinforced the idea that men were ineffective childcarers, that men were incapable of caring for children and were so incompetent they would place youngsters at risk, even as Mondelez argued that it was stuck in a no-win situation, having specifically chosen two dads to avoid depicting the stereotypical image of showing two new mums handling all the childcare responsibilities!

In the case of Volkswagen, ASA concluded that the ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm!

When I first read about the ban I was flabbergasted about the sweeping remit ASA has taken upon itself. My view was also that this was censorship at one level, robbing creative freedom from both brands and agencies while crafting their communication.

But I wanted to know more about the guidelines themselves. To judge something as seemingly complex as gender stereotyping in advertising/ story-telling, ASA and CAP must have put enough thought into framing the guidelines in a way that they could be understood by brands, agencies and people.

So, yes… they have! And the guidelines are fairly thought-through and instructive! They are split into 5 major groups:

  1. Scenarios featuring gender-stereotypical roles and characteristics
  2. Scenarios featuring pressure to conform to idealised gender-stereotypical body shape or physical features
  3. Scenarios aimed at or featuring children
  4. Scenarios aimed at or featuring potentially vulnerable groups
  5. Scenarios featuring people who don’t conform to a gender stereotype

Take a look at the sample scenarios listed by way of ease of understanding.

Now, while these are meant for the UK and have no bearing on ads from India, I was curious to apply these stringent standards on some Indian ads. Would you ban one or more of the following 5 ads?

1/ AllOut – Stand By Tough Moms

2/ EXO dish-wash bar

3/ Head & Shoulders

4/ Britannia 50-50 Maska Chaska

5/ Kellogg’s Special K

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