1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UK bans ads over sexist stereotypes in landmark ruling

August 14, 2019

Adverts by cream cheese maker Philadelphia and car giant Volkswagen will no longer appear on UK television, the agency ruled. But both companies have insisted their adverts did not involve sexist tropes.

Gender stereotypes
Image: Imago Images/Westend61

The UK's ad regulator banned two advertisements for following gender stereotypes on Wednesday, marking the first time the watchdog has barred ads since new rules were introduced to combat sexist stereotypes.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said they "drew the line” with the adverts by cream cheese maker Philadelphia and car manufacturer Volkswagen.

Volkswagen logo
Volkswagen had their advert removed from UK televisions for portraying women as passive, and men as active and adventure-seekingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

What is in the adverts?

The Philadelphia advert featured two men being distracted by the cream cheese snack and forgetting about their babies, which the ASA said "implied that the fathers had failed to look after the children properly because of their gender.”

The advert "relied on the stereotype that men were unable to care for children as well as women,” the ASA added.

Volkswagen's ad, which also will not feature on television again, featured men completing adventurous activities and a woman sitting on a bench with a baby buggy. The ASA said the "images of men in extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities” and of "women who appeared passive” alluded to stereotypical roles of women and men.

This gave the impression the activities were "exclusively associated with one gender,” they continued.

Both Volkswagen and Philadelphia's parent body Mondelez UK said they did not agree with the decision.

Volkswagen dismissed the judgment, arguing their advert showed men and women "taking part in challenging situations," whilst the parent company of Philadelphia, Mondelez UK, said they were "extremely disappointed with the ruling."

Read more: As early as six years old, girls believe boys are smarter, study shows

What is the new ruling?

UK authorities introduced the new rules in June, after pressure from campaigners focusing on sexism. The new rules focused on banning "gender stereotypes which are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offense.”

A spokeswoman for the women's rights group the Fawcett Society, Ella Smillie, told the Reuters news agency advertisers need to "wake up and stop reinforcing lazy, outmoded gender stereotypes.”

"We know that children internalize [gender stereotypes] in a way that limits their aspirations and potential in life,” she added.

A study by data and consultancy firm Kantar showed less than one in ten adverts have an authoritative female in it, despite research which shows consumers respond better to women than men in adverts. 

"Don’t Call Me Bossy" - Toys

Television advertising in the UK was worth a reported £5.11 billion (€5.5bn, $6.1bn) in 2018, according to advertising industry body, ThinkBox.

The ASA is not able to fine Volkswagen and Philadelphia, but the adverts will no longer appear on any British broadcasters.

jns/stb (AP, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pictured on a visit to assess flooded areas in Kherson
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage