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Gender Stereotyping in Advertising, The ASA and My Response on BBC Radio Scotland

Gender Stereotyping in AdvertsGender Stereotyping In Advertising is Being Banned as from June 2019 and the ASA Have Published Their Research & Guidance


Gender Stereotyping in Advertising is Wrong for Several Reasons.  It’s likely to offend potential and existing customers and so doesn’t make good business sense. Plus, as from June 2019,the Advertising Standards Authority could ban any adverts than break their guidance on this.

The new guidance on this was in the news this morning when it hit the media. I had an early morning call to ask me to appear on the Stephen Jardine Show on BBC Radio Scotland to discuss it. On the other side of the table was Shabnum Mustapha, ASA’s Media and Public Affairs Manager.


Gender Stereotyping in Advertising Background

The background to this story was well documented online on the BBC website see 

You’ll notice the headline talks about harmful stereotyping in adverts and the ASA have conducted research to support this view. See

They have also published guidance to help advertisers adhere to the new rules.

Their research came out against things like adverts where men sat on the sofa watching TV whilst a woman did the vacuuming. And men struggling with babies nappies or women struggling to park a car.

I recall the reality that as a new parent I did struggle with nappies, and so did my wife! So would a picture of me, all those years ago, struggling with a nappy be a gender stereotype in today’s advertising world?


Support for the ASA on Gender Stereotyping

I support the notion that gender stereotyping in adverts is bad practice. Besides the moral considerations, it makes no sense to offend potential customers or to create a situation where a business’s brand is brought in to disrepute.

My problem lies in defining what a gender stereotype is and what is covered by the new rules..


ASA Advertising Gender Stereotyping 

Of course the extreme cases such as the female cleaning whilst the male watched TV is at one end of the spectrum and I suspect few people in Western societies would have a problem deciding this is one of the ads that the ASA are against.

I believe the real problem comes with the problem comes with the guidance issued by the ASA. To me it seems lack objectivity.

The ASA say they are not against advertisers being creative and edgy.


The guidance says  [Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.

After welcoming the new rules I posed a question. I explained that much  in life is clear cut. Eg. a red traffic light means stop, The problem is the ASA guidance is  not as precise in its wording. So I asked how to define the word likely as in …. that are likely to cause harm. Likely is a subjective word. We will all have a view on how likely something is and that will be coloured by our background, experience, culture and dare i say it gender!.

And what does widespread mean in the same sentence. Is something only widespread if 100, 1000, or 100,000 take offence? Surely widespread can’t mean one person? But under ASA procedures one person can make a complaint. I’m fully supportive of individuals being able to make complaints but would that construe widespread offence?

Sadly my questions remain unanswered. But I know one thing. For laws or rules to be fair and equitable they must be clear and transparent. I’m not all convinced that the prsnt ASA guidance is clear and transparent.



Expected Interview Questions: Gender Stereotyping in Advertising

Some of the questions I expected from the BBC on gender stereotyping in advertising included: –


Q Could this make advertising more difficult?

Q Why are stereotypes useful for advertisers?

Q Do you think some will be frustrated by these changes?

Q Is it hard to make an advert that won’t fall foul? (e.g. Iceland’s advert with Orangutan)

It pays to be well prepared when being interviewed live on radio. So running over answers to all of these questions and many more is good preparation for anything the interviewer might throw at you.





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