Earlier in the year, the UK banned ads (opens in new tab) featuring harmful or offensive gender stereotypes. Adverts from Volkswagen and Philadelphia have been the first to fall foul of the new rules, which cover TV ads, as well ads on social media and in print (see our favourite print ads (opens in new tab) here).
The prohibited advert from Volkswagen has the strapline 'when we learn to adapt, we can achieve anything'. It includes scenes of two men in a spacecraft, a male athlete with a prosthetic leg doing the long jump and a woman sitting next to a pram. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ad showed a woman "engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role". This was perhaps made more apparent when contrasted with the 'adventurous' activities of the men.
Philadelphia's advert, which has attracted over 125 complaints, shows two men losing track of their babies because they are so distracted by the deliciousness of Philadelphia. After recovering their children, they say "Let's not tell mum". ASA said the ad portrayed the men as "somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively," and added that even though the ad used humour, it didn't mitigate "the effect of the harmful stereotype".
If the YouTube comments under these two ads are anything to go by (and let's face it, they usually aren't), this ban is political correctness gone mad. But take a look at the ads below – all of which are all from 2019 – and you'll see that blatant sexism in advertising is still very much alive. Here are just three examples of just how sexist ads can be.
01. Boden divides boys and girls
In February, clothes company Boden was forced to apologise after a wave of online criticism over text printed in its Mini Boden catalogue. The campaign suggested that boys like adventure, bikes and mischief, and need clothes to match their active lifestyles, while girls need pockets so they can fill them with flowers.
Seriously @Bodenclothing? Keep up. pic.twitter.com/h6WnxWK33RFebruary 2, 2019
Boden responded by saying: "We're so sorry for blotting our copybook in such style. While it wasn’t our intention to ever stereotype the roles of boys and girls, we probably over-egged things a little here."
It also said: "Please accept our sincere apologies. And we will ask Don Draper to stop writing our copy." Blaming 'Don Draper' is presumably supposed to be a joke about how retro this all is, but it surely wasn't just a copywriter who came up with the campaign, and there must have been several layers of approval in order to get it to print.
The new Boden catalogue doesn't feature this same campaign. On a side note, there is still a distinct lack of pockets on many of the girls' items of clothing, so it's unclear where they are supposed to put their flowers.
02. NatWest patronises women
NatWest came under fire in May for a campaign launched in association with Stylist magazine (which claims to feature stories through a 'feminist lens'). The campaign was aimed at women, and featured a man in a pinstriped suit, 'Mr Banker', apologising for how banks have treated women in the past. The problem was, in its effort to say sorry for being patronising, the ads managed to be extremely patronising.
They also drew on age-old stereotypes, for example, by offering a bunch of flowers made up of bank notes by way of an apology. We unpicked just what was wrong with the campaign here (opens in new tab), as well as showcasing some of the other responses (including the one below).
There’s no way any women made this/wrote this/looked at this before it went anywhere. What a lot of patronising bollocks @NatWest_Help @StylistMagazine #mrbanker pic.twitter.com/v9LVr1kXgBMay 22, 2019
NatWest and Stylist defended the campaign, and the Women's Worth Collective, which aims to promote an "inclusive financial environment" is still live today (opens in new tab).
03. 'Your wife is hot' air con ad
A billboard in Mapperley, Nottingham, caused a stir in July. The advert, for air conditioning company, Not Just Cooling, shows a woman in shorts and a T-shirt, accompanied by the slogan: "Your wife is hot! Better get the air conditioning fixed".
The advert was initially going to run on buses in Nottingham, but was disallowed by bus and tram advertising company, Adverta, in partnership with Nottingham City Transport. A spokesperson for Adverta said: "there was room for the design to be potentially contentious".
"I saw something similar in the States and put a bit of a twist on it. It always seems to be sad news at the moment, so it's bit of fun," Not Just Cooling managing director, Lee Davies, told the Nottingham Post (opens in new tab).
"I got the opposite sex's opinion on it as well – people in my family, my wife and my mother – and didn't get any negative opinions from them."
Davies also said he'd been asked to run an advert showing a man in the same situation, but "for now we will leave it as it is".
His comments show a few things. What's a "bit of fun" for some is often very unfunny to many, objectifying a man instead of a woman rarely stops an ad from being sexist (does it ever?), and a survey of one or two people you know is never going to be enough. Especially if those two people are members of your family.