Volkswagen and Mondelez’ daughter company – Philadelphia (the one that makes the cheese spread) are the first two companies to fall victim to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) new rules on gender stereotyping.
The interesting part is that Clearcast, a non-governmental organisation which pre-approves most British television advertising, approved both TV spots, saying that ASA was overzealous with its bans.
So far, the Volkswagen and Philadelphia adverts were banned from TV, with an investigation being launched into Buxton bottled water.
The three advertisements are as follows:
- Philadelphia – in short, it presents two fathers, leave their babies on a restaurant’s conveyor belt, because they want to have a taste of the cheese spread on a little slice of bread. One of the dads tells the baby “Don’t tell mum.” The advertisement is quite humorous and lighthearted.
Mondelez described the advert as intended to highlight the appeal of the product by showing a humorous situation in which parents found it so delicious, they got momentarily distracted while looking after their children.
Clearcast approved the ad following a completely separate logic – presenting a momentary lapse in concentration typical for new, and tired, parents.
The ASA said that, yes, the ad presents new parents, who are likely tired and so on, but the combination of what was presented showed a gender stereotype in which men couldn’t care for their children as well as women. It banned the ad because humor didn’t mitigate the “harmful” stereotype.
- Volkswagen – it shows a couple camping in a tent. A couple is shown sleeping in a tent on a cliff’s edge. Two astronauts (male) and a barely visible female astronaut in the background are floating in space. A male para-athlete with a prosthetic leg does the long jump. Finally, a woman with a pram (a four-wheeled baby carriage) is sitting with the new eGolf drives by.
Volkswagen argued that the core message of its eGolf TV ad centred on the ability of the human spirit to adapt to challenges and change brought about by circumstances.
Clearcast said that the advert was fine, it showed females and males partaking in adventurous activities, with the woman with the baby being a reasonable stereotype.
ASA wouldn’t have any of that. The reasoning behind the ban was that viewers would focus on the occupations of the characters featured in the ad and observe a direct contrast between how the male and female characters were depicted.
It said because it “juxtaposed images of men in extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical caregiving role” it concluded that the ad “directly contrasted stereotypical male and female roles and characteristics in a manner that gave the impression that they were exclusively associated with one gender.”
- Buxton bottled water – the advert hasn’t been banned yet. The video shows a ballerina, a drummer musician and a rower training on a simulator, who, while doing their business, are periodically distracted by drinking water from a bottle.
Five complaints were received for the ad for allegedly showing “harmful” gender stereotypes by contrasting the men and the woman doing activities that they considered were stereotypically associated with each gender.
In defense Buxton’s parent company – Nestle – said that these were all real people, who were high achievers in their respective field. They weren’t defined by their gender, but rather what they’ve overcome to get where they are.
Clearcast said the ad did not say the roles portrayed were always uniquely associated with one gender. The female was a ballet dancer, but that’s not a delicate portrayal.
ASA didn’t ban the Buxton bottled water ad (yet) as it didn’t break the new gender stereotype rule, agreeing that it depicted high achievers and illustrated the hard work and perseverance that had gone into developing their skills to an expert level.
All of these are a result of the ASA’s new gender stereotype rules, adopted and presented in December 2018.
Essentially, scenarios that are “problematic according to ASA are:
- Ads that show a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender
- Ads that feature a person with a physique not typically associated with their gender, which imply that their physique is a ‘significant reason’ for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives
- Ads aimed at new mums which suggest looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors like their emotional wellbeing
- Ads that belittle a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks
To answer any concerns or possible questions – Yes, censorship in the UK is getting more ridiculous by the day.