A new rule in Britain’s Advertising Codes, which applies to broadcast and non-broadcast media, has banned gender stereotypes in advertising.
Originally introduced in December 2018, companies were given six months to adapt their ads to fit the new guidelines. The rule comes after a review by the Advertising Standards Authority which found evidence suggesting harmful stereotypes restrict the choices, goals, and opportunities of children, teenagers, and adults. When these stereotypes are depicted in advertising, it can contribute to unequal gender-based outcomes.
The report was conducted after certain ads gained notoriety for their negative stereotypes, such as Protein World, a weight-loss drink company which put a bikini-clad model in their ads and asked: “Are you beach body ready?” The ad started a petition that gained more than 70,000 signatures calling for the removal of the ad.
Some ads that are now banned include those that show any woman being responsible for household duties, any person failing to do a task because of their gender, and any ad implying certain body types are the reason why people are not successful in their social or romantic lives. Ads also cannot show stereotypical personality traits (such as boys being strong and girls being caring) as their only worthwhile attribute, new mothers prioritizing looks or chores over their mental or emotional health, and cannot mock men for being bad at things such as laundry, parenting, or vacuuming.
The Advertising Standards Agency has previously banned ads that were considered offensive, yet it was not a widespread law. In 2016, they banned an ad from Gucci that featured an “unhealthily thin” model. The following year they banned another ad from Rimmel that featured Cara Delevingne because of excessive airbrushing that could mislead women. In May of this year, the agency banned a Porsche dealer for their objectifying ad that featured a woman’s torso and legs jutting out from a car with the words “attractive servicing” printed over it.
Britain now joins other countries like Belgium, France, Finland, Greece, Norway, South Africa, and India with laws aimed at preventing gender discrimination in ads. The U.S. is different in this respect since they only have guidelines on stereotypes in ads for children.
While laws are in place to protect people from gender stereotypes, the companies responsible for these ads are also making efforts to change the way they present themselves to the world. Consumer goods corporation Unilever has partnered with UN Women and a number of companies, including Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Mars, to create the Unstereotype Alliance that educates people on how advertising maintains biases.
Other reports have focused on the harmful effects of gender stereotypes, working on analyzing more than 2,000 commercials that aired between 2006 and 2016. They found that men were on screen and spoke more than women. Ads featuring only women made up only five percent in total. A similar report in 2016 further discovered that many of the women featured in ads weren’t in positions of power and their role was often connected to seduction, beauty, or motherhood.
Hopefully, these new standards in British advertising will send a message to the rest of the world about how damaging stereotypes can be.