Spotlight on Harmful Gender Stereotypes in Ads

The use of stereotypes in advertisements, often in a humourous way, has been common practice.  However, the spotlight is now more than ever before on the harmful use of stereotypes.  What may have been considered funny or normal in the past may no longer be acceptable.  The ASA’s Advertising Standards Code Rule 1 (c) Decency and Offensiveness says:

“Advertisements must not contain anything that is indecent, or exploitative, or degrading, or likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence, or give rise to hostility, contempt, abuse or ridicule.” 

There is a guideline with this rule that addresses the use of stereotypes in advertising.  It states:

Stereotypes may be used to simplify communication in relation to both the product offered and the intended consumer. However, advertisements must not feature stereotypical roles or characteristics which, through their content and context, are likely to be harmful or offensive to people, particularly children and young people.  This includes, but is not limited to, advertisements that:

  • Mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.
  • Portray an activity or product as being inappropriate for a girl or boy because it is stereotypically associated with the opposite sex.
  • Portray men or women failing at a task that is stereotypically associated with the opposite sex.
  • Include irresponsible or offensive depictions of differences including race, body shapes and sizes. For example, suggesting it is desirable to be an unhealthy weight (under or overweight).

The UK Advertising Standards Authority has recently added a new rule in their Advertising Codes that specifically bans harmful gender stereotypes in ads. Their new rule states: “[Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.”

Our Education and Development Manager Claire Hofer will be speaking at the Marketing Association’s Marketing Law Conference on 7th November in Auckland. Claire will provide a ‘fast 5’ snapshot on the use of harmful stereotypes in ads. The conference will focus on marketers, agencies, influencers and in-house counsels coming together to help build a culture of shared responsibility that will lead to better marketing practices and winning marketing.

If you think an advertisement has breached the Advertising Standards Code and would like to make a complaint, please find out more about the process here. If you are an advertiser and would like to check that your advertisement does not breach the Advertising Standards Code, please contact us or visit AdHelp.