UK ad watchdog bans ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes

Jun 25, 2019


By Lyndsey Hall


A landmark new ruling came into force on 14th June prohibiting marketers from portraying ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes in advertising, following a review by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ad watchdog found that such portrayals can contribute to how people see themselves and their role in society, resulting in a restriction of their choices and aspirations. 

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), the group responsible for writing and maintaining the UK advertising codes, has developed a new standard on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics. 

The general public will be able to report ads they feel breach the new code by displaying damaging gender representations, such as women struggling with DIY or parking a car; or men being portrayed as incompetent homemakers or parents. 

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us. Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potentials,” says Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA.

“It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals, and we’re pleased with how the industry has already begun to respond.”

According to data from research consultancy Kantar, two-thirds of women skip ads if they feel they present a negative stereotype of females, and 85% say the film and ad industries do a poor job of depicting real women.

Jane Bloomfield, managing director of Kantar UK, says:

“Our research shows there is not only an ethical imperative, but also a business imperative behind more progressive, less stereotypical ads. BrandZ data, for example, shows brands that are gender-balanced or even slightly ‘female-skewed’ outperform brands that are skewed more towards men – with £1 billion being left on the table by brands that focus more on men.”

The ASA has decided to not ban gender stereotypes outright, but to identify specific harms that can be prevented. The new ruling will not prevent ads from featuring a woman doing the shopping, a man doing DIY tasks, glamorous or healthy looking people, or ads that only feature a single gender.

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, says advertising should be a positive and progressive force in society.

“We know from research by the industry think tank Credos, that advertising has a crucial role to play in the way society represents itself and this new rule is the next positive step for our industry.” 

The new guidance applies to all broadcast and non-broadcast media, incorporating traditional platforms such as television as well as digital and social. CAP will carry out a review in twelve months’ time to make sure it is meeting objectives.


What are your thoughts on the new gender stereotypes ban? Will it prevent society from following the same old-fashioned patterns and encourage our sons and daughters to build a more equal future? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


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