Gender stereotypes in advertising

It all started with a poster on the tube. A poster that echoed what magazines had been telling women for decades: “Are you beach body ready?”  

The backlash from Protein World’s infamous campaign in 2015 didn’t just provoke heated conversations around the dinner table – it sparked a wave of outrage across all mediums and provided a gateway for a conversation that was long overdue: why is the advertising industry propagating long-outdated sexist stereotypes?

Depictions, Perceptions and Harm

Following the public’s reaction to the campaign, the Advertising Standards Authority conducted a review. That’s not to say that the ASA had previously remained silent on matters concerning gender. In the past they have banned ads on the grounds of objectification, inappropriate sexualisation, and for suggesting it is desirable for women to be unhealthily thin. However, from depictions of ‘doofus dad’ shown struggling with laundry to the ‘downtrodden mum’ favoured by supermarkets at Christmas time, there were several instances where the regulator had received complaints about ads featuring sexist stereotypes or mocked people who didn’t follow traditional roles that it didn’t investigate – they were not in breach of modern guidelines.

The new report, ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm’, provides the Committee of Advertising Practice with an abundance of evidence to update its rules on ads propagating gender stereotypes that might be potentially harmful. The report doesn’t reach the point of recommending that CAP bans work featuring men drinking beer but it will force brands to think twice before describing other drinks as ‘unmanly’.

What does this mean for brands?

While there has been a few of the usual accusations of ‘political correctness gone mad’, the general consensus is that this will actually benefit brands and encourage them to look beyond their traditional audiences. From beer to make up, in the past many brands have defaulted to targeting just one half of the population. It may come as a surprise to find, then, that despite hardly being represented in the beauty advertising sphere, over 25% of people talking about make up and beauty on Instagram are actually male. From Millennials to Generation Z, the consumers of today are approaching gender differently and it’s up to brands not just to keep up, but also instigate positive social change.

Traditional gender stereotypes in advertising no longer cut it in today’s modern world, and you won’t see us mourning its loss. Long gone are the days of the singular family unit comprising of a strong silent male, the ‘angel of the house’ wife and mother, and the 2.4 perfectly blonde children. It’s time to take a good look at the very real people that form our society and market to them. They’re out there; you just need to know where to look.


To find out how Mapper360™ can help your brand identify your high-value audiences, email info@fourengage.com