1986. It was the year that saw Freddie Star eat a hamster, and divine intervention in the World Cup match between England and Argentina send Maradona’s team through, and onwards to win the tournament.

Our 23rd Annual Report from 1986 focused neither on sporting process, nor on cruelty to animals, but instead on the depiction of women in advertising, and whether it was truly reflective of women’s wider roles within society. The ASA Chairman’s Report noted that the ASA Council had devoted a great deal of time to discussing the subject in 1986, recognising the level of intense feeling on the subject.

A Canadian study of gender stereotyping in advertising at the time had noted that, “…[a] woman's place is still in the home; women are still dependent on men; women still do not make independent and important decisions; women still view themselves and are viewed by others as sex objects …” British critics of the portrayal of women in advertising considered that the treatment of women was much the same in the UK as in Canada.

The Chairman, in response, wrote that even if one accepted that such stereotyping existed, there was no evidence that it affected the way in which women saw their relationships and attitudes to themselves and society as a whole. The difficulty that Lord McGregor articulates is that it cannot be considered a part of the ASA’s remit to participate in any social or reform movement without undermining its ability to carry out its functions. Instead, the ASA Council had to ensure that advertising standards kept pace with, but did not pre-empt social reform. It is as fine a line to walk in 1986 as in 2012.

Lord McGregor wrote, “[ASA] Council may have to balance the public interest in promoting equality between women and men against the public interest in safeguarding freedom of expression. Both are high values but I believe that for feminists and advertisers alike, as for democrats, freedom of expression is the higher value. That freedom is the cement which gives the whole democratic edifice its strength.”

Turning to other featured news in the Annual Report, the Committee of Advertising Practice celebrated its Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years of service. At the birthday celebration, Lord McGregor used his commemorative silver sword, given to him at the launch of ASA Ireland in 1982, to cut the birthday cake.

And finally, the latest in a series of ASA/CAP promotional films, which had previously included A Question of Standards and Two Too Many, was entitled “So You Think You Know The Code”. It took on a quiz show format and starred Cliff Michelmore, former presenter of current affairs programme ‘Tonight’ as the quizmaster.

Read the 1986 Annual report here.


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