As a globally recognised day, International Women’s Day is a focal point of the women’s rights movement. Taking place annually, on 8 March, it serves to celebrate the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements of women and acts as a renewed call for action to progress gender equality.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has always taken a firm line on harmful or offensive depictions of gender, objectification, and irresponsible depictions of body image in advertising. Follow the advice below to ensure that you remain compliant with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code in your advertising.
- Avoid harmful or offensive stereotypes
In June 2019, the introduction of Code Rules 4.9 (CAP Code) and 4.14 (Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) Code) prohibited ads from using gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious, or widespread offence.
Ads which depict stereotypical roles or characteristics in a way which suggests that they are always uniquely associated with one gender, the only options available to one gender, or never carried out or displayed by another gender are likely to be problematic.
The ASA has ruled against a number of ads in which harmful gender stereotypes are perpetuated, including an ad for a dating website which relied on the negative gender stereotype of a woman carrying out domestic chores in order to please her male partner.
Similarly, an ad which perpetuated the stereotypical view that women are less likely than men to run their own business, and are not skilled at using technology was deemed to breach the Code.
- Sexualisation and objectification
Ads should not present people of any gender in a way that could present them as objects. Focusing on women’s bodies, particularly in circumstances in which they are unrelated to the product or service being advertised, is likely to be considered objectification, and should be avoided.
For example, the ASA previously upheld a complaint about an ad for a retailer of construction machinery, which featured three women, wearing yellow hardhats and bikinis, posing outside on an excavator. The ASA concluded the use of women in bikinis bore no relevance to the product and presented them as sexual objects.
Similarly, in a fast fashion brand’s product listing for a pair of jeans, the ASA considered that images which focused on a female model’s bare torso, while obscuring her face, in combination with the suggestive nature of the accompanying slogans, presented women as sexual objects and was therefore irresponsible.
- Humour and Innuendo
It is worth highlighting that the use of humour and innuendo will not mitigate the use of harmful gender stereotypes or objectification of women. A poster for an artificial grass supplier featuring pun-laden text, underneath which featured an image of a women wearing only thong-style underwear, was deemed by the ASA to be irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence.
- Animated characters
The use of animated imagery will not get you off the hook as far as causing serious offence is concerned and has been the subject of a number of recent ASA rulings. The ASA found that in paid-for in-game advertising for a mobile app, the appearance of the female characters and the scenarios in which they featured depicted them as sexual objects, stripped of any agency or personality in their portrayal as entirely obedient to the player’s command.
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