Two adverts banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes

New ASA rules prevent advertisers from depicting scenes of a sexist nature

Sarah Young
Tuesday 07 January 2020 17:16 GMT
PC Specialist advert banned for harmful gender stereotypes

Two adverts have been banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes of women working in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The first advert for PC Specialist – a manufacturer and seller of bespoke PC computers – featured three men performing different activities, including producing music and coding with a male voice-over which stated: “For the players, the gamers, the ‘I’ll sleep laters’, the creators, the editors, the music makers. The techies, the coders, the illustrators ... From the specialists for the specialists.”

According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), eight viewers complained that the advert perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting men in roles that were stereotypically male and implying that only men are interested in technology and computers.

Following the complaints, PC Specialist said that its product, branding and services had been developed for their target audience, which is 87.5 per cent male.

The company said there was no comparison between men and women in the advert and that it did not imply women were not interested in computers.

However the ASA disagreed, stating that the advert repeatedly cut to images of only men, who were both prominent and central to the advert’s message of opportunity and excellence across multiple desirable career paths.

“We therefore considered that the ad implied that excellence in those roles and fields would be seen as the preserve of men,” the ASA said.

”Because of that, we considered that the ad went further than just featuring a cross-section of the advertiser’s core customer base and implied that only men could excel in those roles.

“Although the guidance did not prohibit ads from featuring only one gender, we considered that because the ad strongly implied only men could excel in the specialisms and roles depicted we concluded the ad presented gender stereotypes in way that was likely to cause harm and therefore breached the code.”

The second advert to be banned by the ASA was a poster campaign for PeoplePerHour – an online platform giving businesses access to freelancers – which was posted on the London Underground in November.

The image featured a woman alongside the text: “You do the girl boss thing. We’ll do the SEO thing,” referring to search engine optimisation.

The ASA said 19 people complained that the advert perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting a woman running a business in a patronising way and implying women were not technologically skilled.

People Per Hour said the term “girl boss” was a reference to a book, popular culture movement and professional network.

The company acknowledged that the “execution might unintentionally come across as sexist and demeaning to women” but said they had taken steps to rectify this by removing the word “girl” from the advert and issuing a public apology on their website.

Despite this, the ASA said it was a well-established stereotype that men were more suited to positions of authority in the business world than women, and that using the term “girl boss” implied that the gender of the person was relevant to their performance in a managerial or entrepreneurial role.

The watchdog said it was also a well-established stereotype that women were not skilled at using technology and the sentence “We’ll do the SEO thing” was likely to be understood to mean that female “bosses” in particular needed help with IT matters.

“We acknowledged the steps taken to rectify those issues by removing the word ‘girl’ from the ad and issuing an apology,” the ASA said.

(PA: People Per Hour)

“However, for the reasons given we concluded that the ad had the effect of reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes and that it breached the code.”

In June 2019, the ASA introduced new rules regarding advertising that endorses harmful gender stereotypes.

The rules mean that companies are no longer able to depict scenes that promote gender stereotypes, such as women doing household chores, school girls being shown as less academic than boys, women struggling to park a car and men having difficulty changing a baby’s nappy.

At the time of the announcement, Ella Smillie, gender stereotyping project lead at the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), said that offending adverts can “hold some people back from fulfilling their potential, or from aspiring to certain jobs and industries, bringing costs for individuals and the economy”.

“We’ve spent time consulting on new standards to make sure they target specifically those images and portrayals we found cause harm,” Smillie added.

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