Imminent ban on harmful gender stereotypes

Following research in 2017 and consultation in 2018, the coming into force of CAP’s new rule (accompanied by detailed guidance) which prohibits gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence is imminent. 

On 14 June 2019, this rule will be included in Section 4 of the CAP Code:

4.9 Marketing communications must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence
See Advertising Guidance: “Depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence

Here’s a reminder of some of the key things to bear in mind in relation to this new rule.

  1. Ads can still show people in gender-stereotypical roles e.g. a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY, or displaying gender-stereotypical characteristics e.g. a man being assertive or a woman being sensitive to others’ needs - but care should be taken to avoid suggesting that the stereotypical roles or characteristics shown are always uniquely associated with one gender, the only options available to one gender or never carried out or displayed by another gender.

  2. Ads can still feature glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people - but they should take care to avoid suggesting that an individual’s happiness or emotional wellbeing should depend on conforming to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape or physical features.

  3. Ads can still be targeted at, and feature, a specific gender - but should take care not to explicitly convey that a particular children’s product, pursuit, activity, including choice of play or career, is inappropriate for one or another gender.

  4. Ads should be sensitive to the emotional and physical well-being of vulnerable groups of people who may be under pressure to conform to particular gender stereotypes.  With this in mind, ads should avoid mocking people for not conforming to gender stereotypes, including in a context that is intended to be humorous.

  5. The use of humour or ‘banter’ is unlikely to mitigate against the types of harm or serious or widespread offence identified in relation to gender stereotypes. A “it’s a joke” defence, probably won’t be enough to convince the ASA that there isn’t a problem under the new rule.

The Advertising Guidance sets out the principles in more detail, along with illustrative scenarios to help demonstrate creative treatments that are likely to be unacceptable under the new rule.   The existing ASA positions on sexualisation and objectification, unhealthily thin body image and the portrayal of under-18s in a sexual way are unlikely to change significantly but may be considered under the new rule.

For advice related to specific non-broadcast marketing, feel free to contact CAP’s Copy Advice Team.

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