A three-minute TV ad for JML’s Hurricane Spin Scrubber, seen on 12 March 2021, depicted several women using the cleaning tool in bathroom, kitchens and other home environments.
Four of the women described their experiences with the tool, saying, “I have a very busy household. People are in and out of my shower all the time. As soon as I started using the spin scrubber, it’s so powerful it made cleaning so much easier”, “I love using the extension pole to get the rings out of the bathtub … After my children come out the of tub there’s always a ring around it. … It wipes it clean every time. I just love it”, and “I’ve given this to my mother as a gift, and it’s changed the way she cleans. I don’t have to worry about her slipping and falling”. The final woman described how she previously had been embarrassed to have people over to her house because of limescale deposits in crevices that were hard to clean, but no longer worried after using the product; she now “love[d] having people over to come inspect my kitchen and my bathrooms”.
A male voice-over concluded “To get your hands on the Hurricane Spin Scrubber and a sparkling clean home call now, or visit jmldirect.com.”
The complainant, who believed the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting women in a role that was stereotypically female and implying that only women cleaned or were interested in cleaning products, challenged whether it breached the Code.
John Mills Ltd t/a JML said the ad had been broadcast since 2017. It focused on the functionality of the product and the benefits of using it in different situations around the home. It featured two shots of men, did not suggest that cleaning was associated with only women, and there was no suggestion that a man was unable to undertake any of the featured tasks. They did not believe the ad depicted anyone in a harmful way. Clearcast said the ad did not at any point suggest that cleaning was associated with women only.
From the beginning it concentrated on the product, demonstrating its functionality and effectiveness with close-ups of its use on tiles, bath tubs, showers, sinks, hobs and so on. Most of the shots of people holding the product were gender neutral as only part of a body – the hands or torso – was visible on-screen. The ad did include two shots of men cleaning: one shot of a man’s hands towards the beginning of the ad; and a shot of a man cleaning patio furniture near the end. They said the only part of the ad that was skewed towards women were the four testimonials. However, those related to the functionality of the product, for example describing its extension pole, which made cleaning quicker and easier and freed up time for other activities. The statements offered solutions to cleaning problems with which many people would be familiar. While the statements referred only to women cleaning, it was not done in a harmful way. For example, the testimonial of the woman who was concerned about her mother highlighted the ability for an older person to live independently and do her own cleaning with the help of the tool rather than having to rely on other people for help. The focus was on the functionality of the product and not on assigning cleaning solely to women. They further said that in the final testimonial, the woman’s reference to having people “inspect” her kitchen and bathroom was chosen to highlight how good the product was in assisting dirt removal. The statement was intended to invoke the non-realistic idea of someone carrying out an official inspection and was used only to reiterate that the rooms were so clean they could be formally viewed.
Clearcast said there was also no suggestion that a man would not take part in cleaning or not be capable of cleaning effectively: the shot of the man cleaning patio furniture showed he was willing and capable of doing so. They did not consider that cleaning patio furniture was seen as a household chore stereotypically carried out by men. Rather, the shot showed cleaning duties around the house being split between men and women and addressed the stereotype of cleaning being associated with women only. There was nothing to suggest the man would not clean effectively in the house or that the women would not be able to clean the patio chair. Clearcast said that a view that the ad perpetuated the stereotype that it was a woman’s responsibility to take pride in the appearance and cleanliness of their home was based itself on a stereotype of a male and female household. Nonetheless, even if it was accepted that the ad featured what could be considered stereotypical behaviour, it was not presented in a harmful way.
The BCAP Code stated “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”. The relevant joint CAP and BCAP Advertising Guidance (the Guidance) stated that ads may feature people undertaking gender-stereotypical roles, such as showing women cleaning, 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 ASA acknowledged the ad included a number of shots of people cleaning or holding the product which showed only the hands or torso of individuals. We considered that many of the torso shots could be identified as being of women, because of their body-shape. Conversely, we considered that the shot of the hands towards the beginning of the ad was not readily identifiable as being those of a man because it was not easy to distinguish between a man’s or woman’s hands in such a brief shot. Similarly, while the shot of the man cleaning patio furniture was easier to identify as a man, it showed the person only from the waist to the knees and the shot was brief and inset into a small area of the screen. We considered many viewers would not be able to specifically identify the person as a man. The ad featured four women describing aspects of the product’s functionality, how that related to what they used it for, and how much they liked the product. One woman described how she gave the product to her mother because she was concerned about her safety when reaching to clean the top of her shower. Two women described how they liked to use the product to clean up after their children or others who used the shower or bath in their homes. Another woman described how she had been embarrassed about the cleanliness of her home, but using the product gave her the confidence to have people “inspect” her kitchen and bathrooms. The ad therefore contained a number of explicit references to cleaning up after other people and implied feelings of shame at other people seeing an unclean home. There was no implication that the men briefly featured in the ad would share such responsibilities or feelings.
We considered the cumulative effect of the four testimonials, the prominence of people cleaning who were easily identifiable as women, and the lack of easily identifiable men, perpetuated the stereotype that it was a woman’s responsibility to take pride in the appearance and cleanliness of their home, and to clean up after other people. It also perpetuated the idea that women should be judged on the cleanliness of their home. We further considered that cleaning patio furniture was often seen as a household chore stereotypically carried out by men. Therefore, for those viewers who were able to identify the person in that shot as a man, the contrast between that shot and the remainder of the ad reinforced the stereotype that cleaning the home was a woman’s responsibility. Although the Guidance did not prohibit ads from featuring only one gender, we considered that the ad suggested that the stereotypically female role of cleaning the home was uniquely associated with women. We concluded the ad therefore presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm and therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule
Advertisements 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?” (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told John Mills Ltd t/a JML to ensure their advertising did not present gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm, including by suggesting that cleaning the home was a responsibility uniquely associated with women.