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Farrer & Co | Ban on gender stereotyping in adverts

Last month the UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), announced that advertisements will no longer be able to depict harmful gender stereotypes when a new rule in the Advertising Codes comes into force on 14 June 2019.

Why is it necessary?

The change follows the ASA’s review of gender stereotyping in ads, which found that portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society play their part in unequal gender outcomes. The ASA already has rules in place which ban adverts that include gender stereotypes on grounds of "objectification, inappropriate sexualisation and depiction of unhealthily thin body images".

What is caught?

The new rule in the Advertising Codes states that advertisements “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”. It does not ban gender stereotyping outright, but rather seeks to identify problematic use.  

Guidance has been issued to help advertisers stick to the new rule by providing examples of problematic scenarios, such as:

  • Ads that depict a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
  • Ads that depict a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender.
  • Ads that belittle a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks.
  • Ads that seek to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (eg daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (eg caring) need to be handled with care.

The rule does not intend to prevent advertisements from featuring:

  • Glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles.
  • One gender only, including in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender.
  • Gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects.

Scope and compliance

The new rule will apply to broadcast and non-broadcast media (including online and social media).

Advertisements in breach of the rule can be withdrawn, changed or rescheduled (by the ASA for non-broadcast advertisements or otherwise the relevant broadcaster in line with their requirement to enforce ASA rulings). Ultimately, if advertisers and broadcasters persistently break the Advertising Codes, the ASA can refer them to other bodies for further action, such as Trading Standards or Ofcom. The ASA states that usually one of its most persuasive sanctions is bad publicity – an advertiser’s reputation can be badly damaged if it is seen to be ignoring the rules designed to protect consumers.

If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing note, please contact Jeremy Isaacson or Benjamin Pass, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, February 2019

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