The first ads to fall prey to the U.K.’s new ban on gender stereotypes in advertising are tepid spots for Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Volkswagen. The law, which is enforced by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), went into effect in June.
The ads in question were investigated following complaints by viewers that they perpetuated gender stereotypes. The Philadelphia ad features two men with babies talking about how good food at a restaurant looks while the babies go by them on a conveyor belt. The Volkswagen ad showed men being astronauts, setting up a campsite, and doing a long jump, while women in the ad were shown reading on a bench reading next to a baby stroller and sleeping in a tent.
The ASA said it received 128 complaints regarding the cream cheese ad and three complaints about the car ad.
In its ruling on the Philadelphia ad, the ASA states that it is aware the ad was done with a comedic tone. Yet the ASA still ruled against it because it found “that the narrative and humor in the ad derived from the use of the gender stereotype,” and thus didn’t lessen “the effect of the harmful stereotype.”
Of the Volkswagen ad, ASA said:
By juxtaposing images of men in extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role, we considered that the ad directly contrasted stereotypical male and female roles and characteristics in a manner that gave the impression that they were exclusively associated with one gender.
Following the implementation of the bans, Jesse Tye, ASA investigation manager, alleged in a radio interview that gender stereotypes cause real-world harm. “The types of harms we might be talking about are, for example, affecting people’s aspirations. You know it might affect the career choices girls make or boys make,” Tye told the BBC.
This echoes what the ASA claimed when the ban was implemented. Stereotypical depictions “can restrict the choices, aspirations, and opportunities of children, young people, and adults,” it said. But as Reason‘s Billy Binion wrote, it’s the ban itself that constricts choices, “as it limits companies from advertising their products as they see fit and shields consumers from ideas associated with wrongthink.”
A spokesperson for Philadelphia parent company Mondelez International told Today: “We are extremely disappointed with the ASA 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.”
Geraldine Ingham, head of marketing for Volkswagen U.K., told Today “Just like the men, [women in the ad] are shown taking part in challenging situations, such as in a tent perched on a mountainside,” and “embarking on what is surely life’s greatest and most valuable role—raising another human being.”