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Expert Insights

Beach bodies, adverts and gender stereotypes: CAP to ban harmful gender stereotyping in advertising

CAP announces new rules and guidelines following review into harmful gender stereotypes in advertising.

ASA review

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published a review in July 2017 into harmful gender stereotyping in advertising. The report considered whether the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) as well as the ASA, in line with its regulatory objectives as the UK’s independent advertising regulator, are doing enough to address the potential for harm or offence arising from the inclusion of gender stereotyping in adverts.

The review showed public concern about gender stereotypes, their reinforcement through advertising and also the ability of gender to influence behaviours; for example, the ASA received 378 complaints about Protein World’s controversial ‘beach body ready’ poster which appeared on the London Underground in April 2015.

New rules on whether gender stereotypes may be harmful

On December 14 2018, new rules were introduced into the CAP Code (the non-broadcast code) and the BCAP Code (broadcast code) namely “marketing communications must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.

The ASA will also carry out a 12 month review following the new rules coming into force to make sure the rules are meeting the objective to prevent harmful gender stereotypes, with the terms of reference to be published in due course.

What will count as harmful gender stereotyping?

The regulator has published guidance to help advertisers interpret the new rules and understand whether adverts breach the new rules. Within the guidance, a number of scenarios which are likely to be unacceptable are given. These include:

  • “Adverts demonstrating gender-stereotypical roles e.g. a man with his feet up and family members creating mess while the woman cleans up the mess”;
  • “Adverts pressuring individuals to conform to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape or physical feature which suggests that happiness can be derived from this gender stereotype e.g. a person who in unhappy and subsequently has all their problems resolved by conforming to gender-stereotypical norms but does not address other aspects of their life”; and
  • “Adverts that juxtapose stereotypical gender roles e.g. depicting a man as adventurous and a woman as dainty”.
What does this mean for advertisers?

Importantly, the rules only restrict harmful gender stereotypes in advertising and the guidance has made it clear that the new rules do not stop adverts from featuring:

  • “glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles”;
  • “one gender only, including in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender”; or
  • “gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects”.

Nevertheless, given the ASA’s enforcement powers against breaches of the CAP and BCAP Code and the importance of gender equality in modern society, advertisers should continue to treat the use of gender stereotypes seriously.

In any event, when seeking pre-publication advice, CAP’s Copy Advice team can advise on specific non-broadcast adverts and Clearcast (TV) and Radiocentre (radio) can advise on broadcast adverts.

Advertisers should also be aware of the six-month implementation period - the rules will come into force on 14 June 2019.

 For more information please contact Connor Hearn on +44 (0)20 7203 8911 or at

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