Life&Style Writer Kenyah Coombes discusses the rise in advertisements focused on societal change and the problems behind their profit-making roots

Written by kenyahcoombs
Images by Frank Busch

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) review which found harmful stereotypes, sometimes portrayed in advertising, had an effect on how people see themselves led to the prohibition on marketers from portraying “harmful” gender stereotypes in their advertisements in June 2019.

In response to the ASA’s findings, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – a group that is responsible for the writing and maintenance of the UK’s advertising codes – developed a new standard for advertisements that feature these stereotypical gender roles and/or their characteristics. The ASA’s job is to administer and enforce these new standards set out by the CAP. In addition to this, the general public will also be able to report advertisements they feel breach these codes set out by CAP. For example, advertisements that depict men struggling with household chores, an obvious demonstration of the stereotypical gender roles “assigned” to men and women in a household, the public will be able to report their discontent with such an ad.

It can be argued that companies are not in fact taking advantage of society, but instead are listening to what their audiences want

Two-thirds of women skip advertisements if they feel that they contain negative stereotypes of females, and 85% say the film and advertisement industries do a bad job of depicting “real women,” according to data from Kantar UK. The Managing Director of Kantar UK, Jane Bloomfield, says that the research conducted by Kantar UK shows that “there is not only an ethical imperative, but also a business imperative behind more progressive, less stereotypical ads”.

Despite the societal support for better advertisements, there are some concerns that companies may be capitalizing on this “opportunity.” The 2019 advertisement released by Renault Clio became a renowned for its portrayal of a same-sex love narrative that covers sensitive issues. It is advertisements such as this that are receiving the criticism of capitalising on the opportunity to appear inclusive and progressive.

Although there is no way to confirm these criticisms from a public stance, it is understandable, when considering the nature of advertising, where they originate from. There have been many instances throughout history where companies have put their desire for profit over the best interests of society. For example, advertisements directed towards children, regardless of the harmful values they may have implied (reinforcing young girls should be interested in beauty and young boys in action) help drove profits for companies and therefore were actively produced. However, it can be argued that companies are not in fact taking advantage of society, but instead are listening to what their audiences want. The goal of advertisements is to identify the target audience and providing information that pertains to it. If their target audience wants to see advertisements that do not adhere to stereotypical gender beliefs, then they should listen and follow these desires. It can also be argued that, even if companies are simply capitalizing on these opportunities, the outcome is still the same. These companies are still providing advertisements that follow the advertising codes as outlined by CAP.

Despite whether or not companies are capitalizing on opportunities with the recent changes in advertising codes in the UK, the outcome is still desirable. There is a clear desire from society to see advertisements that are transitioning away from  stereotypical gender beliefs, and companies like Renault Clio, are acting accordingly.