Harmful gender stereotypes or harmless fun – you decide

Posted 8th March 2019
By Focus7

We’re big fans of International Women’s Day here at Focus7, highlighting as it does the continual struggle to ensure that all people of the world benefit from a more equitable gender balance. Organisers will use the big day, March 9, as the springboard for a year of activity around the theme #BalanceforBetter.

The premise – that balance is better – is unarguable. The question for our industry – advertising and marketing – is what balance means exactly.

The answer is that you will decide. That’s because the industry regulator has finally got around to banning sexist stereotypes in all forms of advertising, and that includes online and social media as well as TV, print and radio. Poor old Benny Hill will be turning in his grave.

International Women's day

Another big date for your diary is 14 June, when new regulations come in to force. From that day forward it is all of us punters (or ‘consumers’ to give us our official title) who will be the arbiters of what constitutes sexism. Because our job will be to report to the regulator the ads that we feel breach the code.

Putting the spirit of International Women’s Day to one side for the moment, we think that the male brand has a lot to gain from the legislation. Thankfully, even the most Neanderthal ad agency has long-since realised that dumb blonde, mechanically-challenged female stereotypes are off-colour, off-limits and off-the-scale offensive.

Yet even in recent years, we’ve endured lazily scripted TV commercials that hope to win our hearts, and open our wallets, by poking fun at hapless dads who can’t cope with the kids, the washing up and the cleaning when mum’s away. (As if all that’s her job anyway!)

So… what will the future gender stereotype landscape look like? Advertising professionals have been given guidance on which gender stereotypes are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence. To get an insight, you can read the advice of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) here.

Scroll down to page five, and you’ll see what a potential minefield for interpretation that the guiding principles represent. Ads CAN portray gender stereotypical roles (a woman cleaning the house or a man doing DIY) as long as they don’t suggest the roles are ALWAYS associated with one gender, the ONLY options available to one gender, or NEVER carried out by another gender.

Make of all that what you will. Although we can imagine a 30-second commercial of a man with a power drill needing an equally long disclaimer to get it past the regulator. The solution for ad and marketing agencies, of course is to do what they are best at. Think creatively, think laterally, and articulate brand propositions in novel, compelling and entertaining ways that haven’t been seen before. By definition, stereotyping is crass pigeonholing. And like sexism, racism and all the rest, there’s no place for it in our industry.

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