Two ads were recently investigated after viewers said that the depictions of women and men in the commercials perpetuated gender stereotypes. The advertisements – one for Volkswagen and another for Philadelphia cream cheese – were subsequently banned under new rules that prohibit gender stereotyping that is “likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense.”
The two advertisements were the first casualties of a ban in the UK – which went into effect in June – that prohibits ads from depicting gender stereotypes that could be considered harmful or offensive.
One commercial, according to a report by CNN, featured a juxtaposition of male astronauts and a woman sitting on a bench next to a stroller. The second ad showed two inattentive fathers.
In the Volkswagen commercial, men are shown participating in a variety of adventurous activities, including two astronauts in space and an athlete that has a prosthetic leg doing a long jump. The ad then cuts to a woman who is seated on a park bench with a stroller nearby.
The Volkswagen commercial caused viewers to complain that the woman was “engaged in a stereotypical caregiving role.”
“We acknowledged that becoming a parent was a life-changing experience that required significant adaptation,” said the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), the organization that ruled on the matter, “but taking care of children was a role that was stereotypically associated with women.”
In the Philadelphia cream cheese ad, two fathers are looking after their kids in a restaurant that has a conveyer belt. As the men become distracted by the food, they lose track of their children. The kids end up on the conveyer belt, circling around the restaurant.
“Let’s not tell mom,” says one of the dads after picking up his child.
“We acknowledged the action was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger,” said the ASA in its formal ruling.
“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,” the agency continued. “We did not consider that the use of humour in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype.”
Neither commercial will be allowed to air in its current form after the rulings.
A Mondelez International – the company that produces Philadelphia – spokesperson said that the company was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling.
“We take our advertising responsibility very seriously and work with a range of partners to make sure our marketing meets and complies with all UK regulation,” the spokesperson stated.
The new regulations regarding gender stereotypes in advertising aim to prevent “harmful” stereotypes being reinforced that “can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults.”
“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us,” said ASA chief executive Guy Parker.
Ads that depict men and women in situations or performing activities that are sometimes associated with their gender aren’t explicitly banned as long as they aren’t viewed as harmful reinforcements of gender stereotypes.