New French rules on portrayal of the sexes in advertising have pleased womens’ interest groups, but will there still be nudity and will we see similar moves here in the UK?
Who: The Advertising Verification Bureau ofing Verification Bureau of France
When: November 2001
Complaints to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority over the portrayal of the sexes in advertising have increased tenfold in the last six years, and it’s not just female nudity that's caused problems. Men are increasingly fed up with how advertisers treat them. A recent Chartered Institute of Marketing study found that out of more than 1000 adults questioned, only 14% thought men came across in ads as intelligent. Also, 66% thought women in ads were portrayed as intelligent, assertive and caring, whereas men appeared as pathetic and silly. In marketinglaw in the past we have speculated on the possibility of an EU Directive on the representation of gender in advertising, but is this an area where self-regulation should rule? Ideally, but perhaps the self regulators in the UK and other EU states outside Scandinavia (where detailed gender presentation rules are already applied by tribunals specialising in marketing regulation) should follow the French example. There, the French equivalent of the Advertising Standards Authority, the “Advertising Verification Bureau” or “BVP”, has recently introduced detailed “Guidelines for the Presentation of Human Images.” These rules carry particular weight because the French TV channels require BVP clearance before any commercial is broadcast on French TV. The new guidelines have been introduced following years of protests by women, recent hearings on the issue in France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly and a new trend in French advertising towards what has been dubbed “porno-chic.” Here, increasingly sado-masochistic imagery has been used, particularly in ads for luxury goods. For instance advertising for designer chairs using strips of black plastic found an interesting new use for the strips around a suitably pert female torso.
The new BVP Guidelines replace previous guidelines dealing only with the portrayal of women, but are now firmly hermaphrodite. They require that racial, sexual and social stereotypes and sexual exploitation or domination should be avoided. They provide also that ads should not alienate, shock or provoke the public with content that threatens human dignity or decency. Nudity will still be permissible (this is France after all!) but should not degrade or alienate the subject.
Why this matters:
The development has been greeted by interest groups as a step in the right direction. Here in the UK, as the clamour grows for more sensitive treatment of both sexes in advertising, it may only be a matter of time before the CAP seriously reviews the presently very general provisions of the Code which relate to the portrayal of gender.