Gender on the Agenda

Since the ASA published its recent report on gender stereotypes in advertising, you may be giving more thought to how you go about depicting gender in your ads. Until CAP has completed further work based on the ASA’s findings, the current positions still stand. Whilst the report presented a case for stronger regulation of ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics that might be harmful, it also tells us that decisions being made on some issues, such as body image, sexualisation and objectification are broadly in the right place.

Here’s some guidance to help you ensure your ads don’t engender criticism from the ASA under their current positions.

Body Image

Using slim models of any gender is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, just as depicting models who have a ‘healthy BMI’ (or similar) wouldn’t act as bar to the ASA finding fault – what matters is the particular presentation in an ad.

With that in mind, make sure that models are not presented in a way that makes them appear underweight or unhealthy, as this could be considered irresponsible for promoting an unhealthy body image.  Avoid images in which the models bones are visible or prominent and think about whether the pose makes them look particularly thin. Also consider how the clothing, make-up and lighting have an impact on the appearance of the model.  

Sexualisation and objectification

Objectification and sexualisation are different but often overlapping issues. To avoid breaking the rules on these grounds, you need to take care not to depict people in a sexual way that might cause offence, or in a way that depicts people as objects.

Steer clear of gratuitous nudity and sexualised imagery, particularly where this is irrelevant to the product advertised. Featuring scantily dressed models in ads for food or household products could potentially be problematic, particularly where they are presented in an overtly sexual way, whereas in an ad for lingerie or swimwear a degree of nudity is likely to be acceptable in that context.

Avoid using imagery that focuses entirely on particular body parts as this could be seen, particularly if the person’s face is absent or obscured, as reducing people to those parts alone. Making direct links between purchasing a product and sex is also likely to be seen as objectification, which could be seen to cause harm and offence. Although ads of this nature often use innuendo intended to be light hearted, anything that is degrading or gratuitously sexual is likely to be considered offensive even if presented in a humorous way.

Although most of the ASA’s rulings in this area relate to the depiction of women, an inappropriate depiction of men can still break the rules like an insurance ad in 2011 did when it showed three men in revealing underwear alongside the strapline "Can't see the wood for the trees".  Not only was the level of nudity irrelevant to the product advertised, the accompanying strapline was seen as an obvious reference to male genitalia which drew readers' attention to the men's groins.  These factors led the ASA to find the ad problematic on offence grounds.

If you’d like a view on whether your non-broadcast advertising is treading the right line, contact our Copy Advice team for fast and free advice.


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