05 June 2024

ASA rules against cleaning ad on portrayal of harmful gender stereotypes

The Advertising Standards Authority (‘ASA’) recently upheld a complaint against John Mills Limited (‘JML’) for their advertising of JML’s Hurricane Spin Scrubber in a three-minute TV ad seen on 7 January 2024. The customer believed the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes and claimed it breached BCAP Code rule 4.14 – “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.

The advertisement

The ad depicted several women using the scrubber in bathrooms, kitchens and other home environments. Four of the women shared their positive experiences using the tool - one of them mentioning gifting it to her mother, stating that ‘I’ve given this to my mother as a gift, and it has changed the way she cleans’. The ad featured both a male and female host, with the male host describing the product and demonstrating how it worked. The ad concluded with a male voice-over encouraging viewers to purchase the scrubber by calling or visiting jmldirect.com.

The customer believed that the ad presented gender stereotypes likely to cause harm and challenged whether the ad breached the BCAP Code by depicting only women in a role that was stereotypically female, implying that only women cleaned or were interested in cleaning products.

JML’s response

JML stated that it had updated their advertising following a 2021 ASA ruling against a previous TV ad for the JML Hurricane Spin Scrubber which had found that gender stereotypes had been presented in a way that was likely to cause harm. JML argued that the new ad, which featured a male presenter demonstrating and using the product, provided more of a gender balance.

It was stated that they had taken the previous ruling into consideration and that the new ad complied with the CAP and BCAP Guidance. It was noted that the women’s testimonials focused only on the product’s functionality, without mentioning taking pride in the appearance of their house or cleaning up after others. They believed that the inclusion of a male presenter who was shown demonstrating and using the product meant that they avoided suggesting that stereotypical roles, such as cleaning, were the responsibility of a particular gender.

The ruling

The ASA upheld the ruling determining that the ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm and therefore breached the BCAP Code.

The ASA concluded that, apart from the male host, the ad only featured people who could be readily identified as women. While the male host did demonstrate the product’s features, he did so in his role as an employee of the company, rather than showing his own personal use of the product. The ASA highlighted the juxtaposition of the male host in an authoritative position demonstrating how the product could be used alongside several women discussing their experiences with the product, which reinforced the harmful gender stereotype that cleaning was the responsibility of women. Moreover, the male host was accompanied by a female host who did not describe the product but instead solely observed and assisted the male host, which the ASA considered to reinforce the stereotype that it was a woman’s role to assist men.

As such, the ASA concluded that the ad presented gender stereotypes likely to cause harm. The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form.

What to watch out for

Ads must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence. If ads feature people undertaking stereotypical roles, they should take care to avoid suggesting that stereotypical roles or characteristics are uniquely associated with one gender, the only options available to the gender, or never carried out or displayed by another gender.

Businesses should carefully consider how they present subjects featured in their ads to avoid the potential of causing harm to their company, not only in facing the ASA but also in harming their reputation with customers.

If you would like to discuss this article further, please contact Richard Hugo, Amanda Leiu or another member of our Commercial team.

Key contact

Richard Hugo

Richard Hugo Director

  • Commercial
  • Intellectual Property and Media 
  • Retail

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