On 14 December 2018, CAP announced the introduction of a new rule on gender stereotyping in ads, and on 14 June 2019, Code rules 4.9 (CAP Code) and 4.14 (BCAP Code) were introduced. Those rules – which followed a review during which the ASA carried out research into gender stereotyping in ads ‒ stated that ads “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.
The rules were supported by additional guidance, “Advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence”, which identified the gender stereotypes and ways of presenting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence. The guidance set out that a wide body of evidence showed that certain types of gender stereotypes, and ways of depicting gender stereotypes, could negatively reinforce how people think they should look and behave, and how others think they should look and behave, due to their gender. This can lower their self-esteem and limit their aspirations and ability to progress in key aspects of their personal and professional lives, with harmful consequences for them and for society as a whole.
Ad descriptionA radio ad for Foster's beer, heard in June 2019, featured two Australian characters. The ad opened with a phone ringing. The two characters said, "G'day". A man phoning in said, "Hi, it's Colin from Glasgow." The characters said, "Cozza!" Colin said, "My girlfriend wants to move in." One of the characters said, "How long you been seeing the lovely lady?" Colin said, "I don't know, four years?" The characters said, "Whoa, where's the fire, Cozza? Buy yourself some time, mate. Tell her your pad isn't fit for a princess and it needs some renovations. Then every time you see her you need to be wearing a toolbelt. Salsa dancing? Toolbelt. Tenpin bowling? Toolbelt. Art gallery? Toolbelt. The key is to start jobs but never finish them. That should buy you at least six months." Colin said, "Cheers guys, sorted." The characters said, "Hooroo." A voice-over said, "Foster's, good call. Drinkaware for the facts."
Three complainants challenged whether the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by implying that men wanted to avoid commitment while women were desperate to settle down.
Heineken UK Ltd said the ad was part of a campaign that had been running since 2010, in which two Australian characters delivered humorous but ultimately impractical telephone advice from a sunny beach location to people phoning in with common, trivial concerns. They said that the there was nothing to indicate that there was any sense of desperation or particular desire to settle down on the part of the girlfriend. While the male character was nervous about the prospect of living with his partner, that was understandable given that he was contemplating a significant life decision.
The ad did not do anything to given the impression that this nervousness was in any way characteristic of men generally. They said that a similar scenario was played out daily in countless relationships and the roles were often reversed. They said that the fact the couple had been in a relationship for four years indicated that the male character was committed to a long-term relationship, not afraid of one, and that the female character had not been in any particular rush to settle down.
Heineken said they did not believe that the ad depicted gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to translate into genuine harm in people’s lives. They acknowledged that the use of humour did not necessarily mitigate the harm or offence that might be caused by the use of gender stereotypes in ads. However, they thought that in this instance, the humour played a significant role in reducing the risk of harm or offence. Although the ad parodied the “problem page” format, it did not mock or ridicule the caller or his partner, and the joke was not at their expense. The humour did not derive from the caller’s situation, but rather from the interaction between the two hapless characters dispensing advice from a beach a million miles away from real life.
Radiocentre said that the two Australian characters were a staple of Fosters’ advertising, and they believed that listeners would be familiar with them. They were presented as likeable but rather foolish beach bums, and were clearly expressing a somewhat outdated approach to life. The characters and their views were not shown as being aspirational or admirable in any way, and Radiocentre believed that the views expressed were deliberately stereotypical.
The BCAP Code stated “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”. The joint CAP and BCAP “Advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence” said that gender-stereotypical characteristics included attributes or behaviours usually associated with a specific gender. The guidance stated “Ads that directly contrast male and female stereotypical roles or characteristics need to be handled with care”. It further stated that ads may feature people displaying gender-stereotypical characteristics, but they should take care to avoid suggesting that stereotypical roles or characteristics were always uniquely associated with one gender; the only options available to one gender; or never carried out or displayed by another gender. The ad implied that the caller was nervous at the prospect of potentially moving in with his girlfriend and wanted to stall for time.
We acknowledged that the idea that men sought to avoid commitment while women were keen to settle down was a well-established gender stereotype. However, we considered that the caller’s own presentation of the situation was fairly neutral, and that given the girlfriend in the scenario was suggesting moving in together after a four-year relationship, the ad did not imply she was notably keen to settle down. The ad featured only one caller, and so was focused on one particular character’s specific situation. The focus of the ad was on the exaggerated and absurd advice given by the two Australian characters, for example the suggestion that the caller should be wearing a toolbelt every time he saw his girlfriend. Listeners would likely understand that their response was parodying the idea of a man being averse to commitment by taking it to an extreme and suggesting surreal and immature behaviour rather than being honest with his girlfriend about his concerns. Furthermore, the two Australian characters would likely be familiar to many listeners as they were part of a long-running campaign in which they offered unrealistic advice to men facing social conundrums. The ad centred around the absurdity of their response, and we did not consider the ad suggested that those characteristics of being commitment-phobic or keen to settle down were always uniquely associated with men or women respectively.
We concluded that the ad did not present gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm and therefore did not breach the Code. The ad was investigated under BCAP Code rule 4.14 (Harm and offence), but was not found in breach.
No further action required.