On 19 November comes International Men’s day, which celebrates men and boys in all their diversity and takes a gender inclusive approach to exploring how everyone can make a difference and promote better life chances for men and boys.
There are many issues that affect men and boys and advertisers must be careful to ensure that their advertising is responsible and does not cause harm or offence. Advertisers should avoid making negative generalisations about men and boys in their ads. Some of the issues which effect the portrayal of men in advertising are body image, objectification, mental health, and roles and characteristics.
- Body image
When using models in ads, take care and think about the ad as a whole. Ensure that the ad does not portray particular body types in an irresponsible manner, imply that men can only be happy if they look a certain way, or present an unhealthy body image as aspirational. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld multiple complaints about ads which present unhealthily thin models and promote harmful aspirations, and whilst in all the cases to date the models have been female, the same considerations will apply to men.
Take a look at the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance on body image for some info about the common themes from ASA rulings on this topic.
Ads should not present men in a way which could present them as objects. Focussing on men’s bodies, particularly where this is unrelated to the product or service being advertised, is likely to be considered objectification and should be avoided.
Earlier this year the ASA upheld a complaint for an estate agency which pictured a man’s torso and stated “WOW, WHAT A PACKAGE”, and further text covering his crotch, because they considered that the ad was likely to have the effect of objectifying the man by using his physical features to draw attention to an unrelated product.
- Mental health
Suicide is reported as the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45, and advertisers have a responsibility to make sure their ads don’t have an adverse impact on those affected by mental health issues or on society more generally.
An ad which promotes a masculine stereotype in a way which mocks or denigrates a man for being anxious, emotional or open about mental or emotional issues is likely to be problematic, even in the intention is light hearted, and advertisers should avoid this approach.
In 2016, the ASA received a complaint about a banner ad for an online betting company, which stated “SAVE YOURSELF” alongside a silhouette of a man hanging from a rope by his neck. The ASA upheld the complaint that the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence, in particular to those affected by suicide, mental health conditions or gambling problems.
- Stereotyping gender roles and characteristics
Over the years, the ASA has received complaints about ads which complainants felt depicted women as indecisive, no good at map-reading or driving, that blonde women were stupid, that men were invariably the perpetrators of domestic violence, were incapable of domestic chores and looking after children, and many more.
The ASA published its report ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm’ in July 2017, which looked into the effects of gender stereotyping in ads, and whether the current regulation sufficiently addresses the harm or offence arising from gender stereotypes in advertising. In response to the report, CAP and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practiceare currently consulting on new standards to address harmful stereotypes relating to gender roles and characteristics.
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