BackgroundOn 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 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.
A TV ad and video on demand (VOD) ad for the soft cheese, Philadelphia:
a. The TV ad, seen on 14 June 2019, featured a woman passing a baby to a man who then held the baby in his arms. Another man appeared carrying a baby in a car seat. The first man said “New dad, too?” and the second man nodded. The scene was revealed to be a restaurant with a conveyor belt serving buffet food. The men chatted, saying “Wow, look at this lunch”, “Yeah, hard to choose” and “This looks good”, whilst a sitting baby and a car seat were seen on the moving conveyor belt, as the men were distracted by selecting and eating their lunch. The first man then noticed his baby had gone around the conveyor belt, said “errr” and “argh!”, and moved across the room to pick the baby up. The second man picked the baby in the car seat off of the conveyor belt, and one of the men said “Let’s not tell mum”.
b. The VOD ad, seen on the ITV Hub, on 18 June 2019, featured the same content.
Mondelez chose two dads to deliberately avoid the typical stereotype of two new mothers with the childcare responsibilities, and because men were a growing market for their product. There was no intent to stereotype nor did they purposefully make the dads look incompetent or belittle them as they did not fail to look after their children; the dads were simply momentarily distracted by eating Philadelphia.
Mondelez took care to ensure the babies were not shown to be coming to any harm. They said the juxtaposition between a realistic scenario (fathers caring for their children) and an unrealistic and surreal situation (babies momentarily left on a conveyor belt) was to ensure the men were not portrayed as incapable of caring for children and placing them at risk.
Clearcast believed the focus of the ads to be on the experience of two individuals who were both new parents. The CAP and BCAP guidance “Advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence” stated that the rule should not prevent ads from featuring one gender only, and the men were shown to be doing the childcare; Mondelez advised Clearcast that they wanted to show parental responsibility being shared by both parents.
Rather than the ads depicting a harmful stereotype, Clearcast thought the ads depicted an example of a momentary lapse in concentration by somewhat overwhelmed and tired new parents which was quickly realized and rectified. They did not think the ads showed the new fathers being unable to look after the babies properly because of their gender, but instead it was established early on that they were new dads and unused to dealing with young children. They did not believe the ads were a representation of all fathers and did not believe it suggested that the fathers in the ads, or fathers more generally, were incapable of parenting.
In relation to the VOD ad, ITV stated that the ad had received Clearcast VOD Advice alongside Broadcast Approval. They considered that, at the start, genuine affection was displayed by the mother to her husband and child. They considered that both fathers’ fixation on the lunch offerings were central to the ad. They considered that “let’s not tell mum" was a commonplace exclamation signifying embarrassment that could be equally applied in a role reversal. On that basis they did not consider that the ad constituted a stereotypical incompetence or depicted a gender-specific failure to achieve a task, but represented a careless, momentary and harmless distraction.
The CAP and 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 guidance said that ads may feature people undertaking gender-stereotypical roles, but they should take care to avoid suggesting that stereotypical roles or characteristics were always uniquely associated with one gender. The guidance provided examples which were likely to be unacceptable, which included “An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car.”
We considered the scenario represented two new fathers in sole charge of their children, who both became distracted when choosing their lunch and subsequently failed to notice when the children were carried away on a conveyor belt. We acknowledged the action was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger. We considered, however, that the men were portrayed as somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively.
We recognised that the ad depicted new parents and could therefore be seen as a characterisation of new parents as inexperienced and learning how to adapt to parenthood. We also recognised that, regardless of their gender, it was common for parents to ask their children (often jokingly) not to tell their other parent about something that had happened. However, in combination with the opening scene in which one of the babies was handed over by the mother to the father, and the final scene in which one of the fathers said “Let’s not tell mum”, we considered the ad relied on the stereotype that men were unable to care for children as well as women and implied that the fathers had failed to look after the children properly because of their gender.
We also considered that the narrative and humour in the ad derived from the use of the gender stereotype. We did not consider that the use of humour in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype; indeed it was central to it, because the humour derived from the audiences’ familiarity with the gender stereotype being portrayed.
We therefore concluded that the ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype, namely that men were ineffective at childcare, and was in breach of the Code.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Code rule 4.14 (Harm and offence).
Ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.9 (Harm and offence).