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What Just Happened!? Goodbye gender stereotypes in advertising

What happened on this day 100 years ago? 8.5 million women were given the opportunity to vote for the first time (not that it was anyone’s right to give such a thing.

What just happened? The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) announced that from June 2019 we will no longer see awful adverts that show women gawking at washing machines, or hoovering around their husband’s feet while he kicks back with a beer in front of the footy.

A welcome dose of serendipity.

In their own words, CAP is committed to stamping out “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”. The response on Twitter has, of course, been interesting. Many view today as just another snowflake whinge, with some even suggesting the Orwellian nightmare has arrived. Others think it’s a no-brainer.

One particular ad caught everyone’s attention when the news broke today, taken from ASDA’s christmas campaign in 2012. The ad depicts a woman planning Christmas for her family. She’s orchestrating EVERYTHING. Writing cards. Putting up decorations. Cooking the turkey. There are interspersions of what we are made to believe are her usual “mum” duties, such as baby feeding and, of course, ASDA shopping. All the while, dad is relaxing at the head of the table with a glass of red or drinking beer on the sofa. These are the kinds of ads that CAP are targeting.

We needn’t pore over the underlying message here, so let’s think about why there may be a need for today’s CAP ruling. Advertising is a prolific phenomenon, and given that its purpose is to deliver messages, advertisers have become very good at making us listen to those messages. It would therefore be unwise to doubt the level of influence that adverts have on our opinions and expectations. In light of this, is it really political correctness gone mad to rule that the above is no longer acceptable?

The question of where CAP’s ruling will take the industry is intriguing. One area to consider is how advertisers will choose to target their audience. It’s so easy to target using gender stereotypes, because let’s face it, we are all too familiar with them. Even children respond to gender stereotyping. According to one test, a video of a young girl playing with Lego caused the children watching to struggle with “cognitive dissonance”, because they believed Lego to be something that boys play with. With many of the go-to stereotypes now out of the question, let’s hope that this will force an injection of fresh ideas into the industry.

In the adtech world, this ban will likely affect programmatic. Already this week, adtech companies have faced calls to rethink their targeting strategy after a bereaved mother was inundated with baby adverts. Today, CAP has given them more to think about. It’s likely that this will fuel creative thinking within the industry for some time.

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