Media officials in the United Kingdom banned a recent Volkswagen commercial that it said portrayed harmful gender stereotypes.
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The ban comes after newly implemented rules from the Advertising Standards Authority were implemented to eliminate ads that could cause “serious or widespread offence.”
The 30-second TV spot begins with a woman sleeping in a tent next to a man before he sits up and zips the tent shut. That’s immediately followed by a scene showing two male astronauts floating in a spaceship. Then we see a male para-athlete doing the long jump, followed by the final scene, which shows a woman sitting alone on a bench next to a stroller as Volkswagen’s new eGolf car drives by.
Complaints said the ad perpetuated sexist stereotypes by showing men engaged in bold, adventurous activities while the women either took a backseat to the action or took on a traditional caregiving role.
Volkswagen’s ad is one of the first to be banned under the ASA’s new gender stereotyping guidelines, which came into place in June and cover broadcast, non-broadcast and social media.
The ASA, in creating these new rules, said it wants to eliminate stereotypes that could restrict viewers’ choices, aspirations and opportunities: “Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us,” ASA chief executive Guy Parker said per the BBC. “We found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people's potential.”
The new rules, however, don’t preclude the use of all gender stereotypes but instead look to identify “specific harms.” Some examples of that include ads that show a person failing at a task because of their gender or disparage a subject for not conforming to stereotypically gender-specific roles or traits.
Volkswagen UK is fighting back. The company said that its ad didn’t suggest that childcare was exclusively associated with women. And, the fact that the woman was calm could be seen as going against the traditional depiction of a flustered or anxious mom, performing multiple tasks at once.
A commercial from food giant Mondelez, known for Philadelphia cheese, was also banned under the new rules. It showed two fathers leaving a baby unattended on a restaurant conveyor belt, as they were distracted by the food. The ASA said while the ad had a light-hearted intent, it perpetuated the idea that men are “somewhat hapless and inattentive” and incapable of effectively taking care of children.
Crackdowns on these types of ads are seemingly becoming more common. Last year, in the United Kingdom, tissue maker Kleenex was forced to rebrand its "Mansize" tissues after complaints of sexism.