Philadelphia And Volkswagen Ads Banned In First 'Harmful Gender Stereotypes' Ruling

Under new rules, TV adverts must not include gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or widespread offence.

Two TV adverts have become the first to be banned under new gender stereotyping rules.

An advert for Philadelphia soft cheese, featuring two dads leaving a baby on a restaurant buffet conveyor belt while they were distracted by the food, received 128 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Viewers said the ad “perpetuated a harmful stereotype” by suggesting men were incapable of caring for kids and could place them at risk as a result of their incompetence.

Under the new rules, which came into effect on 14 June, ads “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.

Mondelez advert
Mondelez advert

Mondelez UK, which owns the Philadelphia brand, argued that the ad showed a “positive image of men with a responsible and active role in childcare in modern society”, adding that it chose to feature two dads deliberately to avoid the typical stereotype of new mothers shouldering the responsibility of childcare.

But the ASA said while the ad was intended to be light-hearted and comical, it portrayed the men as “somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively”.

An ad for Volkswagen’s eGolf car also attracted three complaints for a final scene that featured a woman sitting on a bench next to a pram after scenes involving a couple sleeping in a tent on a sheer cliff-face, two male astronauts floating in a spaceship and a male para-athlete with a prosthetic leg doing the long jump.

Complainants argued that the ad perpetuated gender stereotypes by showing “men engaged in adventurous activities in contrast to a woman in a care-giving role”.

Volkswagen UK said the ad made no suggestion that caregiving was uniquely associated with women, and the fact that the woman was calm and reading could be seen as going against the stereotypical depiction of “harassed or anxious parents in advertising”.

However, the ASA ruled that the ad did breach its code by presenting gender stereotypes in a way likely to cause harm. “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,” it said.

Volkswagen UK advert. 
Volkswagen UK advert. 

Five complaints about a television ad for Nestle’s Buxton bottled water featuring a female ballet dancer, a male drummer and a male rower were not upheld.

Ella Smillie, head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society welcomed the ASA’s precedent rulings. “It’s about time advertisers woke up and stopped reinforcing lazy, outmoded gender stereotypes,” she commented.

“Gender stereotypes harm everyone and we know that children internalise them in a way that that limits their aspirations and potential in life, that’s why we have launched a Commission to challenge gender stereotypes in early childhood,” added Smillie. “We have to seize the opportunity to change childhood and change lives.”

In response to the Philadelphia advert ruling, a Mondelez spokeswoman said: “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. This includes pre-approval from a recognised television advertising body, before any advert is aired to the public.”

Geraldine Ingham, head of marketing for Volkswagen UK, responded: “As both a leader within this business and as a mother, I do not believe that the roles of the women in this advertisement are in any way portrayed negatively.

“Just like the men, they are shown taking part in challenging situations, such as in a tent perched on a mountainside and in a spacecraft, while another is shown to be embarking on what is surely life’s greatest and most valuable role – raising another human being.”