Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 25 May 2023
Law stated as at: 12 June 2023
CAP has published new guidance providing advice on how advertisers can avoid racial and ethnic stereotypes that are likely to cause offence in advertising.
In 2020, the ASA, undertook research to establish where racial and ethnic stereotypes in ads contributed to real-world harms, and if so, to what extent. Evidence has strongly suggested that certain types of stereotypes have the potential to cause harm by creating limiting beliefs about a person that might negatively restrict how they see themselves and how others see them. The ASA previously published an update about its plans to help combat racism, having recounted a number of adverts which broke rules on the depiction of race and ethnicity.
The updated guidance includes specific examples of unacceptable advertising practices, which are drawn from the ASA’s research, such as:
- Ads that depict people negatively in a way that is explicitly linked to their racial or ethnic group, or explicitly incite hatred, discrimination or physical harm towards people of a particular racial or ethnic group.
- Ads that mock people on the basis of their racial or ethnic group.
- Ads that depict roles and characteristics stereotypical to racial or ethnic groups in a way that is likely to cause harm.
- Even ads that use depictions of harmful racial or ethnic stereotypes in order to challenge them may, nevertheless, risk causing harm, regardless of the advertiser’s intention.
Why this matters:
The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) state that ads must be made with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society as a whole. Ads that include harmful stereotypes would breach this rule unless, in very exceptional circumstances, the particular content and context of the ad justified their inclusion. There is a recognition that ads rarely set out to include harmful stereotypes, but there is always a risk of causing widespread or serious offence when portraying racial or ethnic tropes in ads. The ASA will consider the ad’s likely impact when taken in context to determine whether it portrays a racial or ethnic stereotype likely to breach the rules.
The matter of whether an ad is likely to cause serious or widespread offence is assessed separately to whether it is likely to cause harm. Compliance with the principles set out in the codes to avoid harmful racial and ethnic stereotyping is likely to result in advertisers avoiding falling foul of the rules on offence caused by racial and ethnic stereotyping.