This information provides a general overview of Ad Standards Community Panel determinations on complaints about the portrayal of men and women (gender) in advertising.
It is not a “how to” guide, nor does it cover all situations which require care in gender portrayal.
It is designed to assist the advertising industry, the self-regulatory body, consumers and others interested in ensuring that portrayal of women and men in advertising is positive, responsible, suitable for general viewing and contributes to the elimination of systemic discrimination based on gender.
The Community Panel seeks to ensure that the overall impression of any communication does not violate the spirit of gender equality even though the elements may not violate any particular guideline.
Humour, works of art and historical settings can all be positive elements in advertising. However, the Community Panel will consider whether in its opinion, these techniques are used as an excuse to stereotype men or women or to portray behaviour which it considers unacceptable today.
This information refers to specific cases considered by the Community Panel to provide practical examples of the issues under discussion. These were current at the time of writing and should be used as a starting point only – please refer to case reports for more up to date examples.
Relevant sections of the AANA Code of Ethics
2.1 Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.
2.2 Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading of any individual or group of people.
2.4 Advertising or Marketing Communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
The AANA Code of Ethics prohibits advertisements containing discrimination or vilification on account of ‘sex’. The Community Panel has consistently interpreted this term to include not just the physical characteristics of being a man or a woman (such as having breasts or being pregnant), but to also include discrimination or vilification on the basis of gender.
This summary acknowledges that both men and women are at risk of being portrayed in an inappropriate or potentially harmful way. However, while the summary is applicable to both women and men, some issues are particularly relevant to the portrayal of women (for example, sexualised images of women).
Serious and widespread offence
In areas of subjective judgement and often strongly-held beliefs, it is impossible to say that no single advertisement should ever offend anyone. In practice, the Community Panel would normally interpret rules of this sort to mean that an advertisement should not cause serious offence to the members of the group in question or the general or wider community.
Full frontal nudity and explicit pornographic language is not acceptable to the Community Panel. Images of genitalia and images which are highly sexually suggestive are not acceptable. The Community Panel considers that explicit sexual depictions in advertising, particularly where the depiction is not relevant to the product or service being advertised, are generally objectionable to the community and will offend Prevailing Community Standards.
Research conducted by Ad Standards in 2010 clearly indicates that a significant proportion of the community highly objects to strong and explicit sexual depiction in advertising, especially when the sexual depiction is irrelevant to the product.
The Community Panel pays particular attention to age in a sexualised situation
When older people are depicted, the Community Panel considers it important that women and men are portrayed in similar manner – portraying older women in a less positive light to older men would generally be unacceptable to the Community Panel.
Situations where women or men are portrayed as generally inferior to the other sex and/or their role belittled or criticised in a derogatory manner are generally considered to be unacceptable to the Community Panel.
Further discussion of the issues raised in this document may be found in exploitative or degrading advertising.
In addition to the specific issues outlined above, the Community Panel will also consider the nature of the media used when developing campaigns, and the times in which advertisements are placed.
Respondents to Ad Standards' 2010 community research expressed significant concern about these issues, in line with the views of the Community Panel.
Outdoor advertising: Outdoor advertising is in the public domain and has a broad audience. The Community Panel believes that messages and images presented in this medium need to be developed with a general audience in mind and has given particular attention to the placement of such advertising e.g. close to schools and churches.
Digital media: Given the global reach of electronic networks and the variety and diversity of recipients, the Community Panel believes that it would be wise for digital advertisements to respect the potential sensitivities of a global audience with particular reference to principles of social responsibility and the possibility of causing offence.
Timing: Advertising on television is prescribed by the Broadcasting Act and classified by Free TV. The Community Panel is particularly concerned that only material that is suitable for a particular classification zone is broadcast in that zone.
Level of community concern about this issue
Community activity and political sensitivity about gender portrayal in advertising has been reflected in complaints to Ad Standards and was of particular concern to respondents to Ad Standards' 2010 community research on this topic.
Gender portrayal concerns are identified in roughly half of all complaints made to Ad Standards.
Ad Standards and the advertising industry have demonstrated their responsibility and commitment to good practice in this area by developing a coherent and responsible approach to the issue. This approach is grounded in ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful and are prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society.
Ad Standards is pleased to be included in a publication developed by the City of Melbourne -A guide to reporting sexist advertising.