Should These Ads Have Been Banned?

Great Britain’s advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned two ads from appearing on British TV because of the ads’ depictions of harmful gender stereotypes.

These are the first such actions by the ASA since the regulations came into force last month.

The ads, from the local branches of Volkswagen and the food giant Mondelez, were found to be in breach of the rules, which stipulate that ads must not include “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense.”

Here is the Volkswagen ad:

The ASA received three complaints regarding the Volkswagen ad, which claimed that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by showing men engaged in adventurous activities in contrast to a woman in a care-giving role.

The ASA found in favor of the complainants, noting that “an ad that depicts a man being adventurous juxtaposed with a woman being delicate or dainty is unlikely to be acceptable… the final scene showed a woman sitting on a bench and reading, with a pram by her side… a role that was stereotypically associated with women… By juxtaposing images of men in extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role, we considered that the ad directly contrasted stereotypical male and female roles and characteristics in a manner that gave the impression that they were exclusively associated with one gender.”

Here is the Mondelez ad, featuring Philadelphia Cream Cheese:

The received 128 complaints regarding this ad, which claimed that “the ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype by suggesting that men were incapable of caring for children and would place them at risk as a result of their incompetence.”

The ASA once again found in favor of the complainants, noting that while the ad  “was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger. We considered, however, that the men were portrayed as somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively.” However, the ASA “did not consider that the use of humour in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype; indeed it was central to it, because the humour derived from the audiences’ familiarity with the gender stereotype being portrayed.”

Jessica Tye, the investigations manager at the Advertising Standards Authority, said that both ads contained stereotypes with the potential to cause “real-world harms,” such as affecting children’s career choices.

In my opinion, the ASA has gone too far in both cases.

Here’s a partial response from Volkswagen, which stated that “the core message of the ad was centred on the ability of the human spirit to adapt to challenges and change brought about by circumstances. They illustrated that through a number of different scenarios featuring various characters so that as diverse an audience as possible would be able to identify with the message. They did not think that a climber, astronaut, or athlete competing in a Paralympic sport were gender stereotypical roles or occupations…the final scene of the woman in the park as a relatable example of adaptation to change, as they believed that welcoming a newborn into the family was a life-changing experience that would be shared by many viewers, regardless of gender.”

And here is part of the response from Mondelez: “Mondelez chose two dads to deliberately avoid the typical stereotype of two new mothers with the childcare responsibilities, and because men were a growing market for their product. There was no intent to stereotype nor did they purposefully make the dads look incompetent or belittle them as they did not fail to look after their children; the dads were simply momentarily distracted by eating Philadelphia.”

These seem like sounds arguments from the company, and they almost seem to contradict each other. Volkswagen is criticized for depicting a woman with childcare responsibility, while Mondelez is criticized for showing men with childcare responsibility.

I simply view the cream cheese commercial as a humorous look at somebody who was momentarily distracted. As a guy, I did not feel insulted by the commercial. If the guys had been driving down a highway and were momentarily distracted by a billboard featuring Philadelphia cream cheese, would that be a violation? There are certainly real-world harms that could come from such behavior.

And as for the Volkswagen ad, I find it inspirational, with a paralympic athlete showing us what we are capable of. Many people also aspire to become parents, and to me, that is what the final scene shows. Maybe as a guy, I’m missing something, but I think it’s a beautiful look at the love of a mom.

This is not the first time regulators have banned ads they felt perpetuated a stereotype.

Sweden’s advertising authority censured an internet company last year for using an image that came to be known as the “distracted boyfriend” meme. Here is that image:

I’d be curious to hear other people’s opinion on these ads – do you think they are creating harm in supporting gender stereotypes? Or is it a case of over-regulation?



23 thoughts on “Should These Ads Have Been Banned?

  1. I would tend to agree with your take on it Jim. I watched them both and did not see the harmful stereotypes that I think the regulations were intended to control. I found them both entertaining. It almost seems that if you show a gender doing anything stereotypical you are open to regulation. Can’t wait to see the first ad with a man breastfeeding.


  2. I also see nothing wrong with the ads. It might be the regulatory agency’s over-analytical mind firing away, but yeah… those two seem to be fine.

    I also find the humor in the Philadelphia ad amusing and funny. Wasn’t that the point? Humor?

    I’m afraid that a lot of my ad ideas might not get past this regulatory agency if I ever do make them…


  3. Whether they should be banned or not I like the heightened awareness of gender stereotyping. We all need to keep issues of inclusion, bias and stereotypes closer to the forefront and pass everything through a personal lens. it’s not the individual ad or moment that is the problem, but rather the cumulative effect which can be harmful and hurtful.


    1. thanks, Josie, for sharing your thoughts. Good point about the cumulative effect of gener stereotyping. I think that’s the argument that the regulator was using as well. And I agree that it is important to raise awareness of all type of stereotyping; I think we are all guilty of unconscious bias.


  4. Please forgive my late comment. I’ve been doubled over, laughing my face off. It hurts, too, in case you were wondering. 😎

    Let’s do dis, shall we?

    First, I really appreciate your love of commercials. I read it somewhere. I share in that same life vet of ads and sometimes feel like I missed my calling going into law instead of advertising. Also, my best friend, Alex, a 55 year old former green beret, cries during sentimental ads, too. 😊

    So, I get your curiosity on this blatant hooey. All three ads depicted were humorous and I don’t see the stereotypes portrayed as anything other than tongue-in-cheek humor. They are all well shot, well acted, and beautiful.

    I wish I could say that I understand the regulators’ position on these ads, but I just can’t. I don’t see how anyone is better served by these ads having been pulled. If anything, the viewer loses because the humor portrayed is cute and heart-warning and silly….three things the regulators cannot find where their heads apparently are. 😉

    Great post!


    1. thanks, Kara. As always, your comment is so much better than my original post! I also sometimes wish I had gone into advertising I like coming up with jingles and catchphrases!


      1. Lolz!! They have these things called voice memos on your phone, maybe? Or you could always text them to yourself! Heh. I’ll teach you all the ways of the eternally hip bloggers, Jim! 😁😁😁😁


  5. Yes too far – the Dad’s advert just makes me laugh – we’re quite capable of taking a joke and we are surrounded by modern Dad’s who are very able. And how can you stereotype motherhood. It’s still only women who can give birth and feed babies – the Mum sitting in the park with her baby is obviously on maternity leave before she goes back to her job as a fighter pilot!


  6. Things like this just make me think that, as a society, we lose the battle against stereotypes and inequality because we are picking the wrong fights. And it is a tough balance between avoiding stereotypes altogether but still making ads that the company wants people to relate to, which are prevalant behaviour patterns.


    1. Great point; in the grand scheme of things, these ads seem pretty insignificant. Addressing issues of access to education and healthcare, job opportunities, immigration – these are the batles that seem worthy to fight.


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