If you’ve ever watched TV, read a magazine or spent a few hours trolling the internet (i.e., if you’ve ever been a human), you’re bound to have encountered an advert that left you scratching your head, wondering how in the world a marketing agency could have thought the commercial, spread or banner in question was a good use of ad space. From protein supplement ads that objectify women to adverts for children’s clothing that reinforce stereotypes, the world of advertising has had more than a few missteps.
However, after a year-long study, the Advertising Standards Authority recently released a report that vows to buckle down on what seems to be the pervasive problem of sexualisation, objectification and gender stereotyping in ads. This report is now being passed on to the Committee of Advertising Practice to develop new standards for adverts, and CAP are expected to deliver their own report on their progress before the end of the year. In the meantime, marketing agencies will continue to create campaigns in a largely unregulated industry – but this does not mean that marketers should disregard ASA’s report.
How Ads Can Drive Customers Away
Industry members need to self-regulate now more than ever to ensure that they are avoiding stereotypical depictions. With the advent of the body positivity movement and the dismantling of traditional gender roles both at home and in the workplace, ads that take advantage of stereotypes don’t resonate with customers. In fact, they can actually cause backlash and discourage customers from using the service or product advertised.
For instance, the aforementioned protein supplement ad received intense criticism from consumers, which culminated in a protest in Hyde Park and a petition that garnered over 70,000 signatures. While this level of fervour isn’t the norm, negative responses to ads are not uncommon – just take a quick browse of campaign platforms like Change.org, and you’ll see numerous petitions to remove degrading, stereotypical and otherwise inappropriate ads. A company undoubtedly loses out on customers – and, in turn, profits – when they accept protest-inducing ads from a branding agency, as the adverts reflects poorly not only on the product, but on all of the company’s services, products and partnerships.
The Smart Marketer’s Approach to Advertising
Marketing professionals in the UK would be wise to read the ASA’s recent report and adhere to its findings in their work across all media. But more than sticking to the letter of the law, advertisers of all types, from writers working in a content agency in London to designers creating websites in Tokyo, should question the motivations behind the advertising strategies they are employing. What are the cultural implications behind the advertisements you create? Which emotions are you targeting? Taking some time to reflect on possible interpretations of an idea can save you from backlash in the future.
But more than preventing PR nightmares, thoughtful advertising can also help put stereotypes to rest. After all, ads inform the wider culture. They have the potential to create new perceptions and break down barriers just as much as they can perpetuate outdated and offensive ideas. Putting the ASA’s report into action lies in the hands of the UK’s marketers – will we make the effort to ditch stereotypes for a more nuanced portrayal of the very people we are trying to target?