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Gender stereotypes in advertising are a relic of the past

Jul 8, 2019
Gender stereotypes in advertising are a relic of the past

The world of advertising is constantly evolving. What was once an acceptable way to market a product or service is no longer permissible in the modern climate.

In 2016, Sadiq Khan delivered on his mayoral election manifesto pledge to ban adverts which promote 'unhealthy or unrealistic' body images on the London Underground. This storm centred around the weight-loss advert which asked commuters if they were 'beach body ready?' However, when the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) weighed in on the debate, they concluded that the bikini-clad woman depicted in the advert was neither offensive nor irresponsible.

This case was particularly compelling as commuters effectively had no choice but to digest the adverts on the underground. They had no say in the matter. They couldn’t change the channel or turn the page if they encountered something that offended them.

Clearly there is some disparity in what advertisers and consumers deem appropriate. But to totally reject the view that advertising is in need of reform and needs to align with modern values would be remiss. Whatever your view, it would be hard to oppose new measures put in place banning all adverts featuring ‘harmful gender stereotypes’ or those likely to cause ‘serious or widespread offence’ which came into effect on June 14th.

The ban covers scenarios which reinforce gender stereotypes such as a man with his feet up while a woman cleans, or a woman failing to park her car. The UK’s advertising watchdog introduced the ban because they felt these adverts were both damaging and limiting to people’s potential. 

The ruling came as a result of a review into gender stereotyping in adverts by the ASA. They argue that adverts which depict gender stereotypes significantly harm the aspirations of children, young people and adults, as well as contributing to further societal inequality.

What is to be made of the ban?

The ban of harmful gender stereotypes in advertising is an intrinsically positive thing.

Ignore those who suggest that it’s another example of a nanny state overreaching. Ignore the sexist and unaffected men who claim that these adverts have no lasting impact. Ignore the men who will cry about gender lines being blurred.

To put it bluntly, they are wrong.

It’s estimated that we are subject to over 2500 ads on average per day in the UK. Adverts impact the way we think; whether they inspire an instant change or subtly inform our subconscious, they work, and that’s why advertisers resort to stereotypes. They are a lazy attempt to engage and identify with an intended target audience.

Adverts should be a positive and progressive force in society; they should reflect the changing world we live in. The ban of harmful gender stereotypes in adverts may seem a relatively small step in the fight for gender equality but its impact on society could be huge.

Is advertising something that can be regulated? Or is it too subjective to be policed? Tweet us at @otbtweeter with your thoughts.   


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