UK advertising authority bans white heterosexual ad as ‘harmful’

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The first advertisement banned from television in the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority for portraying “gender-stereotypical activities” was an ad showing heterosexual white men and women.


The ad from Volkswagen shows a white woman raising a baby.

The Guardian reported that the ad for Volkswagen’s electric eGolf vehicle showed a series of scenes including a white couple in a tent on a sheer cliff face, two white male astronauts, a white male para-athlete and a white woman sitting on a bench next to a baby push chair.

The text in the ad announces: “When we learn to adapt we can achieve anything.”

But complainants said the ad showed men engaged in adventurous activities, that unlike her male counterpart, the female rock climber was “passive” because she was asleep, and that the woman with the push chair was depicted in a “stereotypical care-giving role”.

Volkswagen has rejected complaint saying that the ad was “sexist” and added that caring for a newborn was a life-changing experience about adaptation, regardless of the gender of the parent depicted.

The British ASA nevertheless “concluded that the ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm”.

Industry experts were shocked to learn about the ban. “It is concerning to see the ASA take on the role of the morality police,” said Geraint Lloyd-Taylor from the law firm Lewis Silkin. “It has let its zeal to enforce the new rules override its common sense in this first batch of rulings.

“The ASA seems to be out of sync with society in general. As it stands, the ASA’s definition of ‘harm’ is unworkable and urgently needs to be clarified. I hope that these advertisers seek an independent review of the latest decisions.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) introduced new rules at the beginning of the year to ban the depiction of men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical in order to stop “limiting how people see themselves and how others see them and the life decisions they take”.

They have also banned the ad for Philadelphia cream cheese, following complaints “from the public” that they perpetuated harmful stereotypes.

The Philadelphia cream cheese commercial showed two white dads looking after their children at a restaurant with a conveyer belt.

The men become so distracted by the good food that they momentarily forget about their children, who end up circling the restaurant on the belt. “Let’s not tell mom,” says one.

“We acknowledged the action was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger,” the ASA said in its decision.

“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,” they added. “We did not consider that the use of humour in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype.”

Neither of the two commercials can now appear in its current form following the ruling.

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