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Advertising to face tougher rules on gender stereotyping

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has recently called for tougher rules around gender stereotyping in advertising, so how will this affect brands and what changes can we expect to see?

For years there are have been discussions and debates around the topic of gender stereotyping, and it is about to hit the advertising world by storm as the CAP calls on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to put tougher rules in place for brands that allude to specific gender roles.

The new guidelines will be put in place from 2018, so what issues can we expect to be addressed?

Identifying the issues

Last year the ASA launched a project looking into gender stereotyping in advertising, and it identified the following six categories:

Roles – Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender

Characteristics – Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender

Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype – Making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way

Sexualisation – Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner

Objectification – Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts

Body image – Depicting an unhealthy body image

To stay within the rules, brands will need to ensure they take each of these points into account and avoid leaning towards certain gender stereotypes.

This is easier said than done, however, and gender stereotyping is still very much a force of habit. Although advertising has come a long way from the ‘Mad Men’ era, there are still a number of examples of gender stereotyping taking place in advertising today.

Gender stereotyping on our screens

Baby milk and formula brand Aptamil came under fire from the public for its advert showing the future careers of three babies. The boys grow up to be engineers and mountain climbers, yet the girl is – stereotypically – depicted as a ballet dancer.

Image source: BBC

No formal action was taken by the ASA, but that didn’t stop the complaints from rolling in.

Facing change

Once the new rules are in place it will be interesting to see if ads such as the Aptamil ad are banned. Would it be acceptable if the baby girl became a football player while the boys became makeup artists and cabin crew? Or does that take it too far in the opposite direction?

It’s certainly not a clear path and will be a slow process, but it should encourage agencies to put more thought into the campaigns they create and how the characters are depicted.

Sophie Edwards: