Offence: Sexual orientation and gender identity

Aug 7th '23

On 14 December 2018, Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) announced the introduction of new rules on gender stereotyping in ads, and on 14 June 2019, CAP Code rules and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP Code) states were introduced. These rules state that ads ‘must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence’.  This followed a review of gender stereotyping in ads by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), is also supported by additional guidance on potentially harmful gender stereotypes.


The rulings referenced below were published before the new rules came into force and so will not reference these rules, however the advice below still applies and should be read alongside the new guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence.


CAP Code rule 4.1 states that marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. And particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.  Code rule 4.9 states that ads “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.


Ads which mock characters based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, or which use stereotypes in a way which may demean or ridicule groups or individuals, are likely to be considered offensive or harmful (see offence: use of stereotypes).  In 2012 the ASA upheld a TV ad for Paddy Power which stated “we’re going to make Ladies day even more exciting by sending in some beautiful transgendered ladies! Spot the stallions from the mares!”, and featured brief shots of people at the event while the voiceover attempted to guess their gender. The ASA considered that the ad trivialised a complex issue and depicted a number of negative stereotypes, caused serious offence, and condoned and encouraged harmful discriminatory behaviour (Paddy Power, 16 May 2012).


Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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