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July 19, 2017

Sexism and stereotypes as standard in the UK — with change comes opportunity

By GlobalData Consumer

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is to bring in new standards for advertising in the UK, outlined in a GfK report Depictions, Perceptions & Harm.

The report’s lead author Ella Smillie believes that the way people are portrayed in adverts limit how they see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they make.

One area highlighted as a key concern is the use of gender stereotypical roles in advertising.

Immediately a number of iconic adverts would never have seen the light of day — Fairy Liquid (only women washing up) and the Oxo adverts with the mother cooking up delicious meals for her family over the years — being perhaps the two most obvious examples, but the list could go on and on.

Most washing powder adverts; any vacuum cleaner; and Flash liquid, which all restrict women to household cleaning tasks whilst men still tend to be the only family members able to clean cars and mow the lawn.

Almost inevitably there will be the suggestion from the industry that the move is political correctness gone mad — but perhaps for those with their eye on the ball it could actually represent a potential opportunity.

One such area may be in baby formula where currently all adverts depict happy smiling babies and their happy smiling mothers, with very little to differentiate them.

Who could fail to remember the first company who decides to include the mother’s partner taking their turn feeding the baby to let the exhausted mother get some much needed rest.

How will the ASA rules change?

The ASA will look to continue to ban ads for objectifying or inappropriately sexualising people, but plans to take this further by taking a tougher line on the depiction of stereotypes that could potentially cause harm — for example by mocking people for not conforming to a gender stereotype.

While the ASA says it won’t look to ban all forms of gender stereotypical representation, it is going to be problematic for advertisers to know where to draw the line.

For example the ASA says a scenario such as family members creating a mess for which the female has the sole responsibility for cleaning up would be outlawed.

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