Adland told by regulator: You can no longer vilify husbands in ads

Husbands can no longer be portrayed negatively as a group, the Ad Standards Board has declared in a ruling which will have major implications for how male characters are scripted in future Australian advertising.


Ad campaign portrayed husbands as “pests”

Saying in a ruling against a WA pest control company that “this style of humour is no longer acceptable”, the ASB stated that community expectations have changed, and signalled that ads that were previously okay may now get banned.

On many previous occasions the advertising watchdog has cleared complaints about how men are portrayed in ads, with lazy, annoying or dim-witted husbands a regular advertising cliche.

The latest investigation was triggered by a complaint about an Allpest radio ad which featured a woman asking which pests they dealt with, before concluding “We don’t do husbands”.

In 2015, the Allpest “We Don’t Do Husbands” radio campaign, created in-house by Southern Cross Austereo’s head of creativity Matt Dickson, won Commercial Radio Australia’s Gold Siren as Australia’s best radio campaign of the year. And a TV ad for the company with the same message has been running for the last decade.

But the ASB said that after wives became a protected group following its 2015 ban on affairs website Ashley Madison’s ad, the same logic now applies to husbands.

The precedent was set when the ASB ruled against Ashley Madison’s ad featuring men wanting to have sex with people “other than my wife”. At the time, the Ashley Madison ad was the second most complained about of the year.

The complaint against Allpest stated: “Gender stereotyping where the caller asks this company (presumably) if they ‘do husbands’. Would it be any more or less acceptable if the caller asked this company it ‘they did wives’ as opposed to husbands. I suspect it most certainly would not be.”

Defending the ad, Allpest said its ads were “light hearted and jovial”, and had been cleared of previous complaints.

But the ASB ruled:” The Board noted the advertisement’s suggestion that the woman’s husband is a pest and that she was looking to get rid of him.

“The Board noted that it had recently upheld an advertisement for Ashley Maddison for discriminating against wives: ‘The majority of the Board considered that the emphasis on the term ‘wife’ gave a strong message that ‘wives’ are inadequate or somehow lacking and that this suggestion is degrading to wives and does amount to material that demeans or makes people think less of wives.'”

It went on: “The Board noted that in the current advertisement the voice over and the male employee’s mention of ‘we don’t do husbands’ meant that the implication was all husbands are pests, not just the husband mentioned by the woman in the ad.

“Consistent with the previous determination the Board considered that this statement singles out husbands as a group of people and implies that they are pests and need to be gotten rid of.”


Wife’s decade-long bid to get rid of “pest” husband

The ruling also revealed that the decision split the board, and was not unanimous. It said: “The minority of the Board considered that this humour was consistent with acceptable family banter and that the humour in the advertisement was clear and did not suggest that the woman’s joke should be taken seriously, and that there was no malice or suggestion that she wished to hurt her husband.”

But it added: “The majority of the Board felt that comparing husbands to pests is degrading and vilifying of husbands. The Board noted that it had previously dismissed similar advertisements from this advertiser in 2005 and 2010, however the majority of the Board felt that community standards in this area have changed, and that this style of humour was no longer acceptable.”

It went on: “The majority of the Board felt that this advertisement did discriminate against and vilify husbands on the basis of gender.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.