Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Mondelez UK Ltd (Mondelez), Nestlé UK Ltd (Nestlé) and Volkswagen Group UK Ltd (Volkswagen)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 14 August 2019
Law stated as at: 30 August 2019
As we discussed in June, the CAP Code’s rules on gender stereotyping came into force on 14 June 2019 and in mid-August, the ASA published three rulings on the topic..
Mondelez: careless fathers or tired new parents?
A television and video-on-demand ad for Philadelphia cheese showed two new fathers with babies in a buffet restaurant with a conveyor belt for offering food featuring Philadelphia cheese. The fathers are distracted by the buffet lunch options and the babies end up taking a trip on the conveyor belt. The ad ends with “Let’s not tell mum“. 128 viewers complained that the ad may perpetuate the harmful stereotype that men are incapable or incompetent in relation to taking care of children.
Mondelez argued that the ad was intended to depict a humorous situation where parents become distracted by delicious food and the key message would not be altered if the genders were reversed. Rather, the ad perpetuated a positive image of men having a responsible and active role in childcare. Clearcast had decided that the ads focused on a momentary lapse in concentration by overwhelmed and tired new parents and the use of “Let’s not tell mum” is a common phrase that could be applied if the roles were reversed.
The ASA upheld the complaints. It acknowledged that the ad was intended to be humorous but held that the humour did not mitigate the effects of the stereotype, instead, the humour was at the heart of the ad, as it relied on the audience’s familiarity with the stereotype portrayed.
Nestlé: stereotypical activities or strength and endurance?
A television ad featured a female ballet dancer, male drummer and male rower, each honing their skill and improving while drinking Buxton water through the ad. Five people complained that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by showing the men and the woman doing activities that they considered were stereotypically associated with each gender.
Nestlé stated that the people in the ad were real people and the activities were not associated with one gender. Clearcast likewise felt that the roles portrayed were not uniquely linked to one gender. In addition, the ballet dancer was a tough athletic character requiring the same physical exertion as the others, rather than a delicate and dainty character.
The ASA did not uphold the complaints on the basis that the ad showed high achievers in their respective fields and the perseverance required. The ASA decided that viewers would understand that the ad is focused on the characteristics rather than the occupations of the characters and therefore harmful stereotypes were not perpetuated.
Volkswagen: men are adventurous and women are care-givers?
A television ad showed a woman and a man in a tent. The woman was asleep and the man closed the tent, which was on the edge of a cliff. The next scenes showed two male astronauts and a male Paralympian and then the final scene showed a woman on a bench with a pram. Three individuals complained that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by showing men engaged in adventurous activities in contrast to a woman in a care-giving role.
Volkswagen argued that the ad was intended to show the human spirit’s ability to adapt to changes and challenges and depicted a range of scenarios to appeal to as many situations as possible. The focus was different environments and adapting.
The ASA upheld the complaints on the basis that the scenes focused on the men and that the final scene gave the impression that the car was so quiet that it did not wake the baby and was not noticed by the mother. Although the ASA noted that parenthood is a significant adaption, the scene depicted was relatively mundane and did not suggest achievement. Therefore, the overall impression of the ad meant that there was a direct contrast in the gender roles shown.
Why this matters:
The three rulings provide colour to the new rules in place. The ASA’s reasoning behind each ruling and the arguments given by Mondelez, Nestlé and Volkswagen, along with Clearcast’s view, should help brands focus on the considerations and risks surrounding potentially depicting and perpetuating gender stereotypes in ads.