Why the ASA rule against gender stereotyping doesn’t solve the problem

Why the ASA rule against gender stereotyping doesn’t solve the problem

Gender stereotyping regulation

Not familiar with the new ASA regulation? 

It’s a rule to specifically prevent ads from including “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”. 

It came into effect this summer, and this week has seen Volkswagen and Philadelphia as the first two brands to fall foul of breaking it. 

But are ads the only ones causing harm?

I didn’t personally find either of those ads particularly offensive, but then again, I am not a new parent (as featured in both above branded spots). 

I think we can all agree that advertising plays a very powerful role in the shaping of a society’s narrative. 

In the past, what we broadcast to the masses becomes a point of reference, ‘the norm’, the acceptable. 

So, the ASA introducing the law that prevents gender stereotyping is necessary and welcome. 

And let’s face it, we have seen some shockers in recent times. 

Remember the Circle K Secretary Day promotion that went horribly wrong in Mexico this year? The ad offered a bottle of wine, a chocolate bar and a packet of condoms for those wanting to "celebrate" with their secretary. 

The ASA doesn’t cover Mexico, but I just really wanted to include that example because it’s crazy to think ANYONE thought that was a good idea in 2019.

Young people these days

Here’s the problem; culture, today, is defined by young people on platforms that a lot of us aren’t even on or, by content that we will never see. 

It’s moulded by Instagram and YouTube accounts that will never be suggested to us because of algorithms, and research shows that kids turn to slightly older kids (not brands) to learn how to behave and what to care about. 

As Joanna Shroeder describes it in this sobering Twitter thread, social media and vloggers are perfectly laying the groundwork to move kids away from liberal views.

I’m not trying to criticise Gen Z here, or the super-skilled content creators out there from this age group. In many ways they are more woke than the rest of us, but, they are STILL KIDS – and things can veer off-course quite quickly as a young person. 

We all remember a comment, or a horrible remark made by a fellow teen that left a little emotional scar or insecurity that might still be lingering, today. 

Those comments can make you feel like you need to be a certain way to be a ‘sexy’ woman or a ‘masculine’ man, and if you fall short then you are a failure.

Sphere of influence

What has all this got to do with the ASA rule? 

Well, where does an influencer’s post expressing an opinion shift from a personal view to one of brand endorsement? What I mean is, we still technically call them influencers, but really, they have curated their own personal brands from which some earn a salary or get freebies in return for mentions. 

When they promote an ideology, a routine or a product to their audience, should it not also be criticised in the same ways that the ASA criticises branded ads? 

Maybe because a lot of them are young kids, we aren’t scrutinising what they are putting out there as much as adults who have huge influence over their fans.

To give you an example, Beyoncé was recently bashed in the media for her plant-based diet plan. Newspapers boldly stated that ‘it could be dangerous’ (the exact same week the news told us that we should look to move to a vegan diet to save the planet). 

But please tell me how her promo is any more disturbing than this video of a young teen showcasing her ‘glow up transformational video’ where she begins by getting laser hair removal on her legs and bikini line. 

Is this not reinforcing stereotypes among VERY young girls and women on how a lady’s bits should be groomed?  

She’s had almost 1 million views, and it’s not unique in nature. This video is part of the social ‘glow up challenge’ encouraging teens to post videos where their appearance has been transformed. Another vlogger actually titled her video: 24 Hour Ugly to Attractive.  

Everyone wants to be a vlogger

It isn’t surprising that Ofcom found the most aspiring job for boys aged 3-12 after footballer is a YouTuber or vlogger, as we knew that the legitimisation of being an influencer as an actual job would grow.

So, you’ve got to ask, why aren’t influencers being policed in the same way as brands? 

Do bodies like the ASA even trawl through every post that has #AD on it? 

And what about the posts that don’t endorse a brand but rather a point of view that displays, in the ASA’s words, “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm”? 

I won’t even get started on how kids can easily watch porn clips on Twitter, we all know how that industry has had an impact on the way young people treat one another when getting intimate.

We need to be grown ups

So, my view is this: whilst we can’t police the internet, the ASA and marketing campaigns have to lead the way in setting the highest of standards in avoiding gender stereotypes. 

Us boring grown-ups have to exercise the wokest of attitudes and provide workplaces that take equality seriously, too. 

It doesn’t mean we need to be safe or sanitised, it means we need to find new ways of expressing things without resorting to the easy, ugly, stereotype staring us in the face.

If nothing else, we should be showing young people a different and better way of seeing the world, and with luck, it’ll rub off.  

Although, I have to give it to this kid.  He’s a genius.

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