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CAP consults on harmful gender stereotypes

Published on 09 August 2018

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has launched a public consultation on a new rule to tackle harmful gender stereotypes in advertising, as well as guidance to advertisers on how the new rule should be interpreted in practice.

The review

The consultation proposes to introduce the following new rule to cover both broadcast and non-broadcast media: “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.


The consultation comes after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published a report entitled 'Depictions, Perceptions and Harm' last year that provided an evidence based case for stronger regulation of advertisements that feature certain kinds of gender stereotypical roles and characteristics.  The types of advertisements targeted are those that have the potential to cause harm by contributing to the restriction of people’s choices, aspirations and opportunities, which may impact the way people interact with each other and the way they view their own potential. 

Rules are already in force in relation to offence and social responsibility to ban advertisements that include gender stereotypes on the grounds of objectification, sexualisation and unhealthily thin body images. 

Terms of reference

The proposed new rule seeks to identify specific harms that should be prevented, rather than banning gender stereotypes outright.  The guidance provided in support of the new rule provides examples of scenarios likely to be problematic in future advertisements.  Examples include:

  • an advert that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating a mess around the home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess;
  • an advertisement that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender eg a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car;
  • an advertisement that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (eg daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (eg caring) needs to be handled with care; and
  • an advertisement that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically “female” roles or tasks.

The consultation closes on 26 July 2018. 

Why is  this important?

The project lead at CAP, Ella Smillie explained: “Our review of the evidence strongly indicates that particular forms of gender stereotypes in advertisements can contribute to harm for adults and children by limiting how people see themselves and how others see them and the life decisions they take.  The set of standards we’re proposing aims to tackle harmful gender stereotypes in ads while ensuring that creative freedom expressed within the rules continues to be protected”. 

Any practical tips?

If you see any type of gender stereotyping in copy or artwork for an advert, put the brakes on – if only to give yourself a chance to reflect on the potential implications of the messaging.  Even ahead of the outcome of the consultation, you need to be sure you’re not breaching existing restrictions in this area, or worse, alienating your customers.