Philadelphia Cheese ad one of first to fall foul of new UK gender stereotyping rules

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

The ASA has ruled the Philadelphia ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype, namely that men were ineffective at childcare, and was in breach of the Code. Pic:ASA
The ASA has ruled the Philadelphia ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype, namely that men were ineffective at childcare, and was in breach of the Code. Pic:ASA

Related tags: Mondelez, Cream cheese, Asa

A TV ad and video on demand (VOD) ad for the Mondelēz UK Ltd soft cheese brand, Philadelphia, seen on June 14, 2019 in the UK, is one of the first two ads in the UK to fall foul of new gender stereotyping rules, the other being for Volkswagen Group UK Ltd.

The ad, banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for perpetuating a harmful gender stereotype, featured a woman passing a baby to a man who then held the baby in his arms. Another man appeared carrying a baby in a car seat.

The first man said, “New dad, too?” and the second man nodded. The scene was revealed to be a restaurant with a conveyor belt serving buffet food. The men chatted, saying “Wow, look at this lunch”, “Yeah, hard to choose” and “This looks good”, whilst a sitting baby and a car seat were seen on the moving conveyor belt, as the men were distracted by selecting and eating their lunch.

The first man then noticed his baby had gone around the conveyor belt, said “errr” and “argh!”, and moved across the room to pick the baby up. The second man picked the baby in the car seat off of the conveyor belt, and one of the men said “Let’s not tell mum.”

The VOD ad, seen on the ITV Hub, on June 18, 2019, featured the same content.

The 128 complainants, who believed the ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype by suggesting that men were incapable of caring for children and would place them at risk as a result of their incompetence, challenged whether the ads were in breach of the Code.

Mondelēz response

Responding to a request for comment from DairyReporter, a Mondelēz International spokesperson said, “We are extremely disappointed with the ASA decision. We take our advertising responsibility very seriously and work with a range of partners to make sure our marketing meets and complies with all UK regulation. This includes pre-approval from a recognized television advertising body, before any advert is aired to the public.”

Mondelēz UK Ltd said the ad was intended to highlight the appeal of the product by showing a humorous situation in which parents found it so delicious they got momentarily distracted from looking after their children.

The company said it believed the gender roles could be reversed and that same key message about the desirability of the product would not be altered. They did not therefore feel that the ads perpetuated a harmful stereotype by suggesting the men were incompetent, but rather it showed and perpetuated a positive image of men with a responsible and active role in childcare in modern society.

Mondelēz said it chose two dads to deliberately avoid the typical stereotype of two new mothers with the childcare responsibilities, and because men were a growing market for their product. There was no intent to stereotype nor did they purposefully make the dads look incompetent or belittle them as they did not fail to look after their children; the dads were simply momentarily distracted by eating Philadelphia.

Mondelēz took care to ensure the babies were not shown to be coming to any harm. The company said the juxtaposition between a realistic scenario (fathers caring for their children) and an unrealistic and surreal situation (babies momentarily left on a conveyor belt) was to ensure the men were not portrayed as incapable of caring for children and placing them at risk.

Clearcast, a non-governmental organization that pre-approves most British television advertising, believed the focus of the ads to be on the experience of two individuals who were both new parents.

The CAP and BCAP (UK Code of Broadcast Advertising) guidance, “Advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence,” stated that the rule should not prevent ads from featuring one gender only, and the men were shown to be doing the childcare; Mondelēz advised Clearcast it wanted to show parental responsibility being shared by both parents.

Rather than the ads depicting a harmful stereotype, Clearcast thought the ads depicted an example of a momentary lapse in concentration by somewhat overwhelmed and tired new parents, which was quickly realized and rectified. It did not think the ads showed the new fathers being unable to look after the babies properly because of their gender, but instead it was established early on that they were new dads and unused to dealing with young children.

Clearcast did not believe the ads were a representation of all fathers and did not believe it suggested that the fathers in the ads, or fathers more generally, were incapable of parenting.

In relation to the VOD ad, ITV stated the ad had received Clearcast VOD Advice alongside Broadcast Approval. It considered that, at the start, genuine affection was displayed by the mother to her husband and child. It also considered that both fathers’ fixation on the lunch offerings were central to the ad. It considered that “let’s not tell mum" was a commonplace exclamation signifying embarrassment that could be equally applied in a role reversal.

On that basis, ITV did not consider the ad constituted a stereotypical incompetence or depicted a gender-specific failure to achieve a task, but represented a careless, momentary and harmless distraction.

Assessment

The CAP and BCAP Code stated “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”. The joint CAP and BCAP guidance said that ads may feature people undertaking gender-stereotypical roles, but they should take care to avoid suggesting that stereotypical roles or characteristics were always uniquely associated with one gender. The guidance provided examples which were likely to be unacceptable, which included “An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies (diapers); a woman’s inability to park a car.”

The ASA said it acknowledged the action was intended to be light-hearted and comical and there was no sense that the children were in danger. It added, however, that the men were portrayed as somewhat hapless and inattentive, which resulted in them being unable to care for the children effectively.

The authority said it recognized the ad depicted new parents and could therefore be seen as a characterization of new parents as inexperienced and learning how to adapt to parenthood. It also recognized that, regardless of gender, it was common for parents to ask their children (often jokingly) not to tell the other parent about something that had happened.

However, in combination with the opening scene in which one of the babies was handed over by the mother to the father, and the final scene in which one of the fathers said “Let’s not tell mum”, the ASA considered the ad relied on the stereotype that men were unable to care for children as well as women and implied the fathers had failed to look after the children properly because of their gender.

It also considered the narrative and humor in the ad derived from the use of the gender stereotype, and did not consider the use of humor in the ad mitigated the effect of the harmful stereotype; indeed it was central to it, because the humor derived from the audiences’ familiarity with the gender stereotype being portrayed.

The ASA therefore concluded that the ad perpetuated a harmful stereotype, namely that men were ineffective at childcare, and was in breach of the Code.

It ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form, and the ASA informed Mondelēz Ltd to ensure its advertising did not perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes, including suggesting that stereotypical roles or characteristics were always uniquely associated with one gender.

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