Opinion

Your views on advertising’s gender stereotypes says something about you

The recent decision by the UK's Advertising Standards Bureau to govern ads that play to gender stereotypes has divided many. The stance you take reflects the role you believe advertising plays in society, writes Havas group account director Nick Braddy.

On July 18 the UK’s ASA made the historic decision to lay down new standards to hold advertisers accountable. Standards that highlight and attempt to prevent the social harm advertising can cause in exacerbating gender stereotypes. This decision has been met with controversy and has divided the marketing and advertising community.

It was the article by Michelle Smith (research fellow in English Literature from Deakin University) about the ASA’s announcement that got me thinking. In particular this comment by “Mike” on Smith’s article:

“What absolute nonsense. If a campaign crosses a cultural line where the majority are [sic] offended, it will fail. Market forces are the most effective form of conditioning.”

Australia has largely moved beyond acceptance of extremely objectifying ads for products with no inherent connection with sex. Supplied: CC BY-NC-SA

This commentator’s view was in line with many others across the industry globally that disagreed with the ASA’s decision, especially in the US where they don’t have a regulatory authority.

The opposing view, one that welcomed the new standards, was best articulated by Richard Huntington, Saatchi & Saatchi chairman and chief strategy officer, and his opinion piece: “Thoughtlessness is our greatest threat”.

In this piece Huntington highlights the power of advertising on both persuasion to act in a way our marketers want, and on unintended consequences such as stereotyping:

“Both agencies and brands must be more aware and take greater responsibility for advertising’s impact on us all, and not simply on those for whom the message was intended.”

Huntington: Thoughtlessness is our greatest threat

These opposing views ladder up to something greater, representing different overarching ideals. One of free market capitalism, i.e. market forces balance all – if we don’t make good products and associated communications, it won’t sell. And one of neutral third party intervention, i.e. free markets don’t protect people, therefore at times a neutral authority is required to intervene.

So what’s your opinion on the ASA’s new standards? Are you a free market capitalist who believes boundless commerce balances all? Or do you believe we have a social responsibility to those who we market to and third party intervention is welcome?

However you answer is your opinion, but take the time to ask yourself why, as it’s connected to something you believe and ultimately value. Forming a belief isn’t difficult; it is conditioned and often deep rooted from experiences throughout your life. It’s taking the time to know why that is key, where these values come from and how they were formed.

This often means a level of self-enquiry of which many aren’t willing to do. But if you take a step back and realise the relationship between your values and choices, then understanding the ‘why’ in what you value is critical to understanding the ‘why’ in the choices you make in every day life.

We go to great lengths to uncover consumer insights to better shape the choices we make in marketing to them, however when it comes to ourselves we rarely take the time. Understanding why you value what you value and why you make certain choices unlocks a level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence that is critical to effective leadership and decision making.

So let this ASA ruling challenge you to ask yourself what you believe, what you value and most importantly why. It will start a path of self-enquiry and understanding that will help you in all forms of life, professionally and personally.

Nick Braddy is Havas’ group account director.

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