Reed Smith Client Alerts

This month two television advertisements became the first to be found to have breached new rules against gender stereotypes. A third ad was also investigated, but this was not upheld.

The new CAP Code rules and these ASA adjudications have been widely discussed, with varying views aired regarding their fairness and their potential impact on future advertising.

The ads in question

Mondelēz’s ad for Philadelphia cheese begins with a woman passing her child to her partner, and then features two fathers who are distracted by Philadelphia cheese on a food conveyor belt, with their children ending up momentarily on the belt before the fathers notice. One of the fathers then says, “let’s not tell mum”. The ASA considered this a breach of new gender stereotyping rules (CAP code rule 4.9 and BCAP code rule 4.14), with the fathers being portrayed as “somewhat hapless and inattentive”, “perpetuating a stereotype that men were inattentive at childcare”.

Volkswagen’s e-Golf car ad involves several shots of (mostly male) individuals involved in adventurous activities – as astronauts, para-athletes, and rock climbers. Finally, a woman is sitting next to a pram, while the e-Golf passed quietly by. The ASA considered this sequence to “juxtapose images of men… carrying out adventurous activities… with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role”, suggesting certain roles and characteristics were “exclusively associated with one gender”.

Nestlé’s ad features a female ballet dancer and male drummers and rowers practicing different skills, with a voice-over emphasising their achievements in “finding a way through” and “pushing upwards until… reaching the top”. The ASA considered viewers would understand the ad’s focus on “equal levels of drive and talent” allowing different individuals to excel in “equally demanding” fields, rather than their specific occupations, and found no breach.

How might future advertising be affected?

Responses to these rulings from the advertising sector have been mixed. While several have spoken in favour, such as Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals, who argued the ads “legitimise outdated gender roles and narrow norms of gender identity”, others have commented that the ASA’s rulings stretch the definition of ‘harm’ too far, and that the body is ‘out of sync with society in general’ in assuming the depiction of individuals in roles which may be stereotypical for their gender is automatically damaging. Striking a middle ground, Zoe Harris, CEO of GoCompare Group, felt that although the rules were accurately enforced, the rules themselves seemed unduly harsh.