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Gender Stereotyping

and The ASA

August 2018

There was a recent media piece describing how the ASA will set new rules that legislate to remove ads that reinforce ‘gender stereotyping’.

I saw this latest open declaration by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) as a publicity gimmick to remind people that they are still there.

Having looked into several examples of what they do, and don’t, currently consider to constitute an offensive advertisement, I have to admit that I largely agree with the incidences where they have upheld, or rejected, complaints from the public, based on the current guidelines. 

However, it looks as if they are about to create a new set of guidelines that would have upheld many of the complaints that they rejected in the past, on the grounds that they ‘reinforced gender stereotyping.’

Here is what Guy Parker, Chief Exec. of the ASA said...

"Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,"

"While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole."

I think this is hogwash.

Does Mr. Parker really believe people build their self-awareness and value systems around the patently unreal worlds they see depicted in advertisements?

Will they jump out of windows because they see people ‘flying’? Will they drown themselves because they see people breathing underwater? Will they only consider a life as a dancer because they saw an ad that showed a little girl growing up to be a ballerina? (My daughter grew up with regular exposure to the very ads that are now held up as contributing to ‘Gender Stereotyping’ and she’s an engineer now.)

There’s no reason that little girls should become ballerinas, and no reason boys should be engineers. However, on balance it is more likely to be that way.


Because advertising HAS TO BE a mirror of society, not the other way around. If an agency gets it wrong (and modern consumer research will show when it has) then it doesn’t relate to its audience, and the campaign will fail and they will (and should) lose the client account.

Yes, I have a growing unease that creativity and free expression is being suppressed to please an oversensitive minority. But my real reason for railing against this looming regulation is that it focusses on an unproven (and I would say erroneous) theory, yet the same 'watch dog' seems unwilling to act when advertising really does pose a threat to society.

Because I still maintain it’s the ads that stoke aspiration and play to addiction that are the real evil, not ads that may (or may not) steer people down anachronistic career paths. 

Take a look at gambling advertisements. I personally know three families who have been destroyed by gambling addiction. And I regularly see ads that show ‘lucky winners’ showered in gold with expensive cars behind and pretty girls hanging off them.

I know countless others that have mortgaged themselves to the hilt and work every hour that God sends to maintain an almost unsustainable but ‘ideal’ consumer lifestyle, struggling to acquire, and keep, the biggest house, latest cars, best washing machines, iPhones and foot spas that they see advertised.

But I don’t know anyone who failed as a ballerina because they really wanted to be an engineer.

I would say this to the ASA; if - as you appear to believe - advertising has any real effect on society, don’t just jump on the latest politically-correct bandwagon - take a stand on what really matters.

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