By Claire Zillman
July 19, 2017

Britain’s advertising watchdog group announced yesterday that it will ban sexist ads, such as spots that depict women as solely responsible for cleaning or ones that show men as clumsy parents.

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) undertook what it considers the most comprehensive review of gender stereotyping anywhere in the world and found that “a tougher line is needed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which can potentially cause harm, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.”

The ASA will relay its findings to its sister body, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), which writes the U.K. advertising codes. The CAP will then develop new standards that will be enforced by the ASA.

This effort is reminiscent of the initiative undertaken by some of the world’s biggest players in advertising in June. At the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, an ad industry conference, Unilever co-convened—along with UN Women—the inaugural session of the Unstereotype Alliance whose members—Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Diageo, AT&T—vowed to try to proactively address and eliminate stereotypes in advertising globally. Facebook, Google, and Twitter also sent representatives to the meeting, as did major ad agencies IPG and WPP.

The difference between the two approaches is that ASA’s has some serious teeth. In the past, the watchdog has blocked ads for over-airbrushing—a L’Oreal campaign featuring actress Julia Roberts fell victim to that standard in 2011—and for featuring models that are too thin. Last year, it deemed a Gucci ad “irresponsible” for showing a “unhealthily thin” model.

That is a fate that companies desperately want to avoid. “There is a great stigma among advertisers of having complaints over one of their ads upheld by the ASA,” Lindsey Clay, CEO of Thinkbox, the marketing body for television advertising in the U.K. told the Financial Times. “This is a big wake-up call for the advertising industry.”


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