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 for Buxton bottled water, seen on 15 June 2019, featured a female ballet dancer, a male drummer and a male rower. The dancer was shown as a child and then as an adult practicing in a studio. The drummer was seen playing in a school gym and then on stage. The rower was shown training on a stationary bike and rowing machine and then rowing on a river. Scenes of the three characters practicing their different skills and drinking Buxton water were interspersed with images of water flowing through rock. A voice-over stated "Rock bottom. The start of the journey. There will be obstacles but it's all about finding a way through, pushing upwards until finally reaching the top. Buxton. Here's to the up and coming". On screen text stated "Forced up through a mile of British rock. #HeresToTheUpAndComing".
Five complainants, who believed that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by contrasting the men and the woman doing activities that they considered were stereotypically associated with each gender, challenged whether it breached the Code.
Nestlé UK Ltd stated that the characters depicted were real people (not actors) who were defined not by gender, but by the difficulties they had had to overcome to achieve what they had. They did not consider that the roles portrayed were uniquely associated with one gender, only available to one gender or never carried out by another gender.
Clearcast said they felt that the ad was not saying that the roles portrayed were always uniquely associated with one gender or that these options are only available to one gender. Whilst they noted that the female character was shown to be a ballet dancer, the portrayal was neither delicate nor dainty. She was featured as a tough, athletic character with her practice requiring exactly the same amount of physical exertion as a rower or cyclist, for example. To reach “the top” she had to overcome the same obstacles, constantly pushing herself to her best abilities. In light of this interpretation, Clearcast did not consider that the ad was in breach of the regulations.
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 roles included occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender, while 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. An ad that depicts a man being adventurous juxtaposed with a woman being delicate or dainty is unlikely to be acceptable”. It further stated 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 only options available to one gender; or never carried out or displayed by another gender.
The ad depicted three people who were high achievers in their respective fields. It featured multiple shots of them training or practising in a sequence that the ASA considered illustrated the hard work and perseverance that had gone into developing their skills to an expert level. That impression was reinforced by the voice-over, which focussed on the idea of starting at the bottom and pushing to overcome obstacles before reaching the top (as an analogy for the way water rose up through the ground to its source). We noted that the complainants were concerned that the only woman in the ad was a ballet dancer, which they considered was a role that was stereotypically associated with women.
We acknowledged that ballet was stereotypically seen as an activity for girls and women, while drumming and sports, such as rowing, were more stereotypically associated with boys and men. However, we considered that viewers would understand that the ad was less focussed on the specific occupations of each character, and more focussed on their characteristics - namely equal levels of drive and talent which had allowed them to excel. We also noted that each skill depicted - ballet, drumming and rowing - was shown to be equally difficult and demanding. Therefore we did not consider that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes and we concluded that it 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.