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Two Ads Fall Foul of ASA's Gender Stereotyping Rules in UK

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Ads from Philadelphia, VW, and Buxton were investigated, although The ASA did not uphold the complaints about Buxton

Two Ads Fall Foul of ASA's Gender Stereotyping Rules in UK
The ASA has published rulings on three TV ads, cleared by Clearcast. The ads were investigated under the new gender stereotyping rule which came into force on June 14th 2019. Complaints against two of the three ads have been upheld, relating to ads for Philadelphia cheese and Volkswagen cars. 

A spokesperson for Clearcast says: "We are naturally disappointed that the ASA didn’t share our view of the two ads it has ruled against. Its interpretation of the ads against the new rule and guidance goes further than we had anticipated and has implications for a wide range of ads. Clearcast will use these rulings in assessing future ads where gender stereotypes might be considered harmful."

The Philadelphia ad showed two new fathers, each holding a baby, in a restaurant. Both men become distracted looking at food on a conveyor belt and momentarily put their babies on the belt. They quickly notice the mishap and retrieve the children while one said “Let’s not tell mum.”

The VW ad featured four vignettes - the first showed a man and a woman in a tent attached to the side of a sheer cliff-face, the second was two male astronauts floating in a spacecraft, one eating an apple and the other reaching for a drink, with a third, female, shown in the background. The third showed a male para-athlete doing a long jump and the fourth vignette showed a mother reading on a park bench next to a pram.

The ad for Buxton water showed a drummer and a rower both of whom were men and a female ballet dancer.

Complainants considered the ads perpetuated harmful stereotypes by suggesting men were incapable of caring for children (Philadelphia), showing men engaged in adventurous activities in contrast to a woman in a caregiving role (VW) and contrasting men and women in stereotypical roles associated with their gender (Buxton). The ASA agreed with the complainants in relation to Philadelphia and VW; it did not uphold the complaints about Buxton.

Clearcast cleared these ads in the lead up to enforcement of the new gender stereotypes rule and accompanying guidance, both of which were published in December 2018. A Clearcast spokesperson said Clearcast was confident that each of the ads complied with the rule and guidance. In a press release, Clearcast defended its stance, with the following statement: 

We considered that the Philadelphia ad, depicting new fathers in the caregiving role, was light-hearted. The ASA view was that this ad perpetuated a stereotype that men were ineffective at childcare however our view was that it showed no more than a momentary lapse in concentration with no harm done, rather than incompetence. We considered the ad did not show the men failing to achieve a task because of their gender.

The VW ad showed a woman in the suspended tent with the man, indicating that she had scaled the cliff-face. Although ambiguous, it also featured a female astronaut in the background. The ASA considered that the overall impression was of adventurous men and passive or care-giving women, however our view was that the achievements of the female climber and astronaut were significant. We also considered the depiction of the woman next to the pram did not contrast negatively with the male characters or perpetuate harmful stereotypes and that none of the women in the ad were shown as delicate or dainty. And the ad did not suggest the roles depicted were always associated with one gender.

In the Buxton ad we considered the ballet dancer, drummer and rower were each shown as high achievers, the woman was not shown as delicate or dainty and did the ad did not perpetuate harmful stereotypes or suggest that the roles shown were uniquely associated with one gender. We are pleased that the ASA agreed.
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