Volkswagen and Philadelphia cream cheese ads banned over gender stereotypes

An advertisement juxtaposing male astronauts with a woman sitting by a stroller, and another depicting two hapless dads, are the first casualties of a British ban on gender stereotypes in advertising.

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The ads, for Volkswagen and Philadelphia cream cheese, were investigated by the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) after viewers complained they perpetuated gender stereotypes.

New rules that came into force in June prohibit depictions of gender that “are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense.

“The Volkswagen commercial shows a number of primarily male people taking part in adventurous activities — two male astronauts in space, and a male athlete with a prosthetic leg doing the long jump — before cutting to a mother sitting on a park bench next to a stroller. It prompted three complaints from viewers, and the ASA found it showed a woman “engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role.”

“We acknowledged that becoming a parent was a life-changing experience that required significant adaptation, but taking care of children was a role that was stereotypically associated with women,” the body added in its ruling.

In the Volkswagen ad, a woman is shown sitting by a stroller.

A second commercial for Philadelphia cream cheese showed two dads looking after their children at a restaurant with a conveyer belt.

The men become so distracted by the food that they lose sight of their babies, who end up circling the restaurant on the belt. “Let’s not tell mom,” says one, after rescuing his child. Over 125 viewers complained.

“We acknowledged the action was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger,” the ASA said in its decision.

“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,” they added. “We did not consider that the use of humour in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype.

“Neither ad can appear in its current form following the ruling.

A spokesperson for Mondelez International (MDLZ), which produces Philadelphia, said the company was “extremely disappointed” with the decision.

“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.”

Problematic ads can ‘contribute to inequality’

The new rules follow a review by the ASA, published in 2017, which found that harmful stereotypes reinforced by advertising “can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults.”

A public furor over a 2015 poster on the walls of London’s subway system, showing a woman in a bikini with the words “Are you beach body ready?,” prompted the regulator to look into all gender portrayals in advertising.

This controversial 2015 ad prompted reviews of how genders are portrayed in British ads.
Beach body poster row. File photo dated 27/04/2015 of a Protein World advert displayed in an underground station in London, as the controversial “beach body ready” campaign was not offensive or socially irresponsible and would not have shamed women into believing they needed to take a slimming supplement, the advertising watchdog has ruled. Issue date: Wednesday July 1, 2015. However the ad for Protein World weight-loss products featuring a bikini-clad model asking “Are you beach body ready?” remains banned in its current form over concerns that its health and nutrition claims were not authorised on the EU Register. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had only just banned the ad when it began receiving the first of 378 complaints that the image of the “very slim, toned” model under the controversial headline implied other body shapes were in some way inferior. Complainants also challenged whether the image was socially irresponsible in the context of a campaign for a slimming product. Protein World argued the ad’s intention was to invite the viewer to consider whether they were in the shape they wanted to be. The company said the ad featured a model who used its products and who it felt had a healthy figure. See PA story CONSUMER Body.

The ad — for a weight-loss product — was not initially banned by the ASA, as it did not explicitly break any rules, but the regulator eventually took action due to its health claims.

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us,” Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, said in a statement in June.

The ASA said commercials will still be allowed to show “glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles.

“Ads that show men or women carrying out tasks with which their genders are sometimes associated, such as women shopping, will also be permitted.

CNN Business has contacted Volkswagen (VLKAF) for comment.

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