Advertisement sector watchdog ASCI has issued guidelines on ”harmful gender stereotypes”, laying down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals and encouraging advertisers to create more progressive gender depictions.
The new guidelines mandate that advertisements should not indulge in the ”sexual objectification of characters of any gender” or depict people in a sexualised and objectified way for the purposes of titillating viewers.
This would include the use of language or visual treatments in contexts wholly irrelevant to the product, said a statement issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
”Advertisements should not mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes, their sexual orientation or gender identity, including in a context that is intended to be humorous, hyperbolic or exaggerated,” the guidelines said.
While the guidelines focus on women, they also provide guardrails for the depiction of other genders as well, it added. These frameworks can prove to be useful for marketing and advertising professionals to improve their advertising ROIs (return on investment).
”No gender should be encouraged to exert domination or authority over the others by means of overt or implied threats, actual force or through the use of demeaning language or tone. Advertisements cannot provoke or trivialise violence (physical or emotional), unlawful or anti-social behaviour based on gender,” said the guidelines, which were released on Wednesday by the Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Zubin Irani.
Advertisements should not indulge in sexual objectification of characters of any gender or depict people in a sexualised and objectified way for the purposes of titillating viewers.
”This would include the use of language or visual treatments in contexts wholly irrelevant to the product. For example, an online takeaway service featuring an image of a woman wearing lingerie lying back in a provocative pose behind various fast-food items would be considered problematic,” the regulator said.
Even though the image may not be sexually explicit, by using a suggestive image of a woman that bears no relevance to the advertised product, the advertisement would be considered objectifying women by presenting them as sexual objects and therefore is a gender stereotype that is likely to cause harm.
Moreover, advertisements should not reinforce unrealistic and undesirable gender ideals or expectations, it added.
In addition to that, an advertisement may not suggest that a person fails to achieve a task specifically because of their genders, such as a man’s inability to change nappies or a woman’s inability to park a car. According to the ASCI, gender portrayal is a ”complex and nuanced issue” and the guidelines provide an interpretation of Chapter III (related to harmful situations), which deals with ads that can cause harm to individuals or society.
”Gender stereotypes are harmful because they lock individuals in certain roles and perpetuate certain dynamics that are harmful to society. Advertising, through subtle and implicit depictions, reinforces certain harmful stereotypes and overlooks the aspirations of individuals and groups,” the ASCI said in a statement.
The guideline permits advertisements to feature glamorous and attractive people, but they must not suggest that an individual’s happiness or emotional wellbeing depends on conforming to these idealised gender-stereotypical body shapes or physical features.
Advertisements that depict children may target and feature a specific gender but should not convey that a particular children’s product, pursuit, behaviour, or activity, including choice of play or career, is inappropriate for one or other genders.
However, the ASCI also clarified that these guidelines do not intend to prevent ads from featuring glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles.
They are allowed to feature ”one gender only, including in advertisements for products developed for and aimed at a particular gender”.
Commenting on the new guidelines, ASCI Chairman Subhash Kamath said these are created after extensive consultation with many partners – both from industry, as well as civil society organisations, including the Unstereotype Alliance and UNICEF. ”These guidelines are a big step forward in strengthening ASCI’s agenda to shape a more responsible and progressive narrative,” he said.