Let’s talk about what the ASA ban on gendered stereotypes means for men

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Shnoosee Bailey, HeyHuman

Shnoosee Bailey, executive creative director at behavioural communications agency HeyHuman, shares her belief that the recent ban on gender stereotypes in adverts is a reason to focus how the industry treats men as well as women.

Last Friday, the ASA’s ban on gendered stereotypes came into force. The new code was announced at the end of last year, following a review which revealed that harmful stereotypes “can restrict the choices, aspirations of children, young people, and adults.”

The ban means we can say goodbye to ads that show women struggling to park cars or new mums focussing on their appearance or homes instead of their emotional wellbeing. It should - hopefully - also mean an end to the sorts of campaigns which suggest men should grow up to be scientists, and women ballerinas.

It’s a long overdue step forward for the industry. And one which has taken a while to pass through because our industry can be a little slow to move with the times - perhaps because we’re too comfortable in what we do.

Adland's responsibility

We need to remember that our work can be a force for good to empower social change, and we have a responsibility to move away from stereotypes in order to deliver creative campaigns that really resonate with people. 

Creative directors need to be bold and creatives need to drive this change and not rely on hackneyed stereotypes, but it’s not just the responsibility of the agencies. Brands also need to be encouraged to take front-line stances on the issues that face our society, particularly when it comes to articulating some of the challenges of modern masculinity.

Female stereotyping is still prevalent in advertising, but there has been a positive shift in recent years. In the past 12 months alone we’ve seen ads like Viva la Vulva, a sensitive, beautifully filmed ad from Kim Gehrig, which breaks taboos around women’s bodies, as well as Nike’s trailblazing ‘Dream Crazy’ - which shows how an ad can drive change without patronising its audience.

But in my mind, we still have some way to go when it comes to the portrayal of men in ads, and we need to remember that the ASA ban is a prompt for us to focus on the way the industry treats both genders.

Admittedly, there are certain sectors that are guiltier of this than others. The automotive industry is a case in point, promoting the image of the ideal man being aloof and immovable - but frequently, men are also depicted as bumbling buffoons. They are often shown to be incapable of doing DIY, changing nappies or looking after children. Let’s face it, they’re rarely shown in caring roles.

Disrupt the conversation

With men’s mental health issues on the rise, and with young men being increasingly confused about the role they should play in society, it’s clear that what we’re seeing is a crisis in modern masculinity.

We need more ads to disrupt the conversation. They don’t all need to be as heavy-handed, or as divisive, as the Gillette ad, but, we need better representation of what real men look like, across the board.

The ASA ban isn’t going to fix the issues our industry and society are facing overnight, but hopefully it will serve as something of a kick up the behind when it comes to creativity. After all, the best ads - the ones which have really connected with people - never rely on lazy, tired clichés to do their jobs for them.