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Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Volkswagen ads axed due to 'harmful' gender stereotyping

A screenshot from Mondelez U.K.'s Philadelphia Cream Cheese ad. The Advertising Standards Authority says it perpetuates "harmful" gender stereotypes.
A screenshot from Mondelez U.K.'s Philadelphia Cream Cheese ad. The Advertising Standards Authority says it perpetuates "harmful" gender stereotypes.

These two commercials are the first to be banned by the U.K. ad watchdog's new set of rules to prevent the representation of gender stereotypes

The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned a commercial about cream cheese that may represent fathers as “unable to care for children as well as women” and a car commercial that depicts “woman being delicate or dainty.”

These two commercials are the first to be banned by the ad watchdog’s new set of rules to prevent the representation of gender stereotypes.

In total, 128 people complained to ASA about the Philadelphia Cream Cheese ad made by Mondelez U.K., one of the world’s largest snack companies.

The commercial starts with a woman passing a baby to a man. Another man shows up holding a baby in a car seat. The first man says, “New dad, too?” and the second man nods before they both become distracted by food passing on a conveyor belt.

The first man notices his baby had gone around the conveyor belt. After chasing after the baby, he returns to the other dad with the infant and one of them say, “let’s not tell mum.”

Mondelez U.K. defended the commercial, according to the Advertising Standards Authority, saying it was meant to be comical and the “same key message about the desirability of the product would not be altered” if the men were women.

The company also said the ad “perpetuated a positive image of men with a responsible and active role in childcare in modern society,” emphasizing the two fathers were new parents.

“The men were portrayed as somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively,” ASA wrote, mentioning it did consider the fact that the parents were portrayed inexperienced as inexperienced and the “Let’s not tell mum” quip is often said jokingly.

When considering how the mom handed the father their baby in the first scene and the “Let’s not tell mum” line, ASA said “the ad relied on the stereotype that men were unable to care for children as well as women and implied that the fathers had failed to look after the children properly because of their gender.”

ASA received three complaints about Volkswagen U.K.’s commercial which starts with a shot of a sleeping woman next to a man turning off a light in a tent perched on a jagged cliffside.

The next scene shows two male astronauts in a spaceship with the text “we can achieve anything” followed by a male para-athlete running.

The commercial ends on a shot on a woman reading a book next to a baby stroller as a Volkswagen eGolf silently zooms by.

The complaints alleged the ad “perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by showing men engaged in adventurous activities in contrast to a woman in a care-giving role.”

ASA says Volkswagen replied, noting the ad focuses on adapting to challenges and “did not think that a climber, astronaut, or athlete competing in a Paralympic sport were gender stereotypical roles or occupations.”

It added that the characters were shown performing actions that were not stereotypical to one gender and their actions were not extreme, while their environments were.

“The fact that the female climber was asleep (in the tent) could be said to demonstrate not that she was passive, but that she was relaxed and comfortable in a hostile environment,” read Volkswagen’s defence.

ASA highlighted the juxtaposition of men in “extraordinary environments and carrying out adventurous activities with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role.”

Volkswagen also defended the last scene of the woman with the stroller saying that “welcoming a newborn into the family was a life changing experience.”

The ruling, however, states although parenting is no easy task, “taking care of children was a role that was stereotypically associated with women.”

“In context, the final scene (the only one that featured the product) gave the impression that the scenario had been used to illustrate the adaptation and resulting characteristic of the car – so quiet that it did not wake the baby or register with the mother – rather than as a further representation of achievement, particularly as the setting was relatively mundane compared to the other scenarios,” ASA wrote.

In an interview with The Guardian , Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, an advertising expert at the law firm Lewis Silkin, was appalled by the rulings.

“It is concerning to see the ASA take on the role of the morality police,” he told The Guardian.

“It has let its zeal to enforce the new rules override its common sense in this first batch of rulings.”

Comcast also told The Guardian it was disappointed.

“The ASA’s interpretation of the ads against the new rule and guidance goes further than we anticipated and has implications for a wide range of ads,” said the telecommunications giant.

A Nestlé U.K. commercial for Buxton bottled water featuring a female ballet dancer, a male drummer and a male rower also received five complaints, but ASA did not nix the commercial.

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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