International Men’s Day 2023

Nov 9th '23

There are six key tenets of International Men’s Day (19 November); to promote positive male role models, celebrate men’s positive contributions, focus on men’s health and wellbeing, highlight discrimination, improve gender relations, and promote gender equality and to create a safer, better world.


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has always taken a firm line on harmful or offensive sexism, objectification, and irresponsible depictions of body image in advertising. And clearly, the potential for harm and offence to arise from gender stereotypes doesn’t just apply to women.


Indeed, there are many issues that affect men and boys, and advertisers must be careful to avoid making negative generalisations about them. So, what can marketers do to make sure they don’t fall afoul of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code?


  • Avoid harmful gender stereotypes

Since 14 June 2019, advertising rules have prohibited ads from featuring harmful gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes include occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender, e.g., women being primarily responsible for childcare and men being responsible for financial security. They can also include characteristics or behaviours usually associated with a specific gender, such as sensitivity or rationality.


If an ad uses a gender stereotype in a harmful way, it will break the rules. For instance, advertisers should avoid placing undue emphasis on the contrast between what might be considered a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g., daring) and a girl’s (e.g., caring). Similarly, advertisers must take care not to belittle a man for conducting stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks.


The ASA upheld complaints about an ad for a food product, where two babies were shown on a restaurant conveyor belt while their hapless and distracted fathers chose their lunch, as it perpetuated a harmful stereotype that men were incapable of caring for children (a role stereotypically attributed to women). What’s more, advertisers shouldn’t assume that using humour or innuendo will mitigate the potential for harm; even if an ad is intended to be light-hearted, framing problematic depictions as ‘banter’ is still likely to break the rules.


  • Take care with body image    

Ads must not portray 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. It’s vital that marketers ensure that all ads for beauty treatments, diet and exercise programmes or surgeries aimed at men do not take advantage of or exploit insecurities.


Earlier this year, the ASA ruled that an Instagram post showing ‘before and after’ images of a 14 year old boy, in connection with a diet and exercise programme, was irresponsible because it was likely to exploit young people’s potential insecurities around body image and risked putting pressure on them to take extreme action to change their body shape.


Furthermore, marketers should be wary of trivialising surgery or invasive cosmetic intervention in their advertising – see our guidance on social responsibility in terms of cosmetic treatments for more on this.


  • Don’t objectify men

Ads should not present people of any gender in a way that 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.


The ASA previously upheld a complaint about an ad for an estate agency which pictured a man’s torso and stated “WOW, WHAT A PACKAGE”, with further text covering his crotch. The ASA Council concluded 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.


Similarly, an insurance ad in 2011 broke the rules when it showed three men in revealing underwear alongside the strapline “Can’t see the wood for the trees”. Not only was the level of nudity irrelevant to the product advertised, the accompanying strapline was seen as an obvious reference to male genitalia, which drew readers’ attention to the men’s groins. These factors led the ASA to find the ad problematic on offence grounds.


  • Be mindful of mental health

Suicide is often cited as a leading cause of death among men. The suicide rate for men in England and Wales in 2019 was the highest for two decades and sadly remains high. As such, 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.


In 2016, the ASA upheld 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 Council ruled 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.


It’s also worth noting that imagery can sometimes be ambiguous, so marketers should consider it in the context of the ad as a whole. In 2019 the ASA upheld a complaint about a social media post for a life insurance company, which featured an image of a man leaning the front of his head against a wall with his arms by his side with text which stated “Life insurance to die for”.  Although the ad did not make a direct reference to mental health or suicide, the ASA considered that the image created the impression that he felt isolated and was in despair. In the context of an ad for life insurance, they considered those who saw the ad were likely to associate the man’s posture as alluding to suicidal feelings. The ASA Council concluded that by trivialising the issue of suicide and alluding to it to promote life insurance, the ad was likely to cause serious offence.


Source: CAP


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