As we reported earlier this year, a new rule dealing with the depiction of harmful gender stereotypes, was introduced into the BCAP and CAP Codes as of June 2019.

The first decisions under the new rules have been released and we have seen two separate ads by Volkswagen and Philadelphia banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) under the new rule.

Volkswagen’s advert for its eGolf electric car, with the slogan “when we learn to adapt, we can achieve anything” features a man and a woman camping on a sheer cliff face, two male astronauts floating in space, a male athlete with a prosthetic limb, and a woman sitting next to a pram.

Separately, the Philadephia ad by Mondalez depicts fathers being distracted by the cheese spread long enough for their babies to end up on a conveyor belt of Philadelphia, resulting in an embarrassed dad saying “let’s not tell mum”.

Both ads received a number of complaints from the public on the basis that they were contrary to the new rule, which aims to ban harmful gender stereotypes in ads which can

“contribute to inequality in society” and “can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential.”

Whilst Volkswagen argued that caring for a new born child was a life-changing experience about adaption, regardless of the gender of the parent depicted, and that a female was also engaged in the adventurous activity of camping on the mountain, the ASA ruled that “unlike her male counterpart, the female rock climber was passive, because she was asleep” and that the woman with the pram was depicted in a stereotypical care-giving role.

Mondalez told ASA that it was in a “no-win situation” having deliberately chosen two dads to avoid depicting the stereotypical image of women handling the childcare responsibilities. However the ASA banned the ad on the basis that it reinforced the stereotype that males are ineffective in care-giving roles.

Critics have said that the watchdog has gone too far and in a statement posted on the website for ISBA, the body representing the UK’s leading advertisers, Phil Smith (director-general and a member of a working group that helped develop the new rules) said the bans are “concerning, both in terms of the precedent they set and the likely impact they will have on advertisers.”

Smith further commented

“In our view, the two decisions go beyond the intent of the new rule and guidance and will likely create confusion for advertisers and the broader co-regulatory system as they seek to address the harmful gender stereotypes and outdated portrayals this rule was designed to tackle.”

The effectiveness of the new rule will be reviewed by CAP in June 2020, to determine whether it is suitable in helping the ASA meet the rule’s objective. It will be interesting to see how the ASA applies the rule in future decisions.

Help, support, advice, guidance signpost

In the meantime, if you are an advertiser and want to know whether the new rules may affect a campaign, please contact Carlton Daniel of Squire Patton Boggs for practical guidance and advice.