A TV ad for PCSpecialist, a manufacturer and seller of bespoke PC computers, was seen on 17 September 2019. It featured three men performing different activities on computers, including producing music and coding. The male voice-over stated, “It’s the beginning of the end. The end of following. It’s the start of freedom, individuality, choice. It’s an uprising. An insurgence. For the players, the gamers, the ‘I’ll sleep laters’, the creators, the editors, the music makers. The techies, the coders, the illustrators. Bespoke, customised, like no other. From the specialists for the specialists. PC Specialist.”
Eight complainants, who believed that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting men in roles that were stereotypically male and implying that it was only men who were interested in technology and computers, challenged whether it breached the Code.
PCSpecialist Ltd explained that customers could visit their website and build their own PC, configured to their own requirements. They said their customer base was 87.5% male, aged between 15 and 35 years. Their product, branding and service had been developed for and aimed at that target audience and the characters in the ad therefore represented a cross-section of the PCSpecialist core customer base. PCSpecialist said the characters looked into the camera as though they were using a PCSpecialist machine. They did not believe they represented negative stereotypes and were playing the roles of entrepreneurs, forward-thinkers and hard workers. They considered there was no comparison between men and women in the ad and the ad did not imply that women were not interested in computers. They said the ad did not juxtapose men using computers with women not using computers, nor did the ad explicitly state that women did not use computers or that the service was unsuitable for them.
Clearcast did not consider that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes. Whilst the ad used male actors to reflect the target customer base, Clearcast did not accept the premise that using exclusively male actors in the ad implied that computing was always uniquely associated with one gender, was only available to males or that women could not be interested in technology or computers.
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 occupations or positions and also attributes or behaviours usually associated with a specific gender. It added 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; were the only options available to one gender; or were never carried out or displayed by another gender. The guidance also stated that, subject to the guiding principles, neither the rule nor the guidance were intended to prevent ads from featuring one gender only, including in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender.
The ad began with a PC exploding and went on to state “freedom, individuality and choice” before referencing a number of specialist and creative roles in quick succession, encompassing leisure pursuits and professional positions, not just limited to information technology, but in the creative and artistic industries and entertainment, namely: players/gamers, creators, editors, music makers, techies, coders and illustrators. We considered that the voice-over and fast-paced series of scenes in the ad conveyed a sense of excitement and opportunity and implied that those depicted in the ad were innovative, highly skilled and achieving excellence in the roles and careers mentioned and that those watching should aspire to excel in them too. However, the ad repeatedly cut to images of only men, who were both prominent and central to the ad’s message of opportunity and excellence across multiple desirable career paths. We therefore considered that the ad implied that excellence in those roles and fields would be seen as the preserve of men. Because of that, we considered that the ad went further than just featuring a cross-section of the advertiser’s core customer base and implied that only men could excel in those roles.
Although the guidance did not prohibit ads from featuring only one gender, we considered that because the ad strongly implied only men could excel in the specialisms and roles depicted we concluded the ad presented gender stereotypes in way that was likely to cause harm and therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule 4.14 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told PCSpecialist Ltd to ensure their advertising did not present gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm, including by suggesting that excellence in multiple career paths was uniquely associated with one gender.