Banning sexist advertising is like the lilac lapel coat from Acne Studios – impractical yet desirable
Sweden – the mystical land of unbreakable darkness and enduring daylight. Of fresh, crisp air and achingly cool style. A haven for all things foodie, as long as it's fermented or laced in lingonberries. The fatherland of Ikea flat pack furniture, Abba, picture postcard forests and story book bears.
And now also the land where all outdoor sexist advertising is banned – in Stockholm at least, with other Swedish cities set to follow suit. The question is, do we the British adopt the same policy for our own advertising, as we have taken in H&M, & Other Stories and Monki to our own high streets, or does what constitutes sexist prove so problematic, it's akin to asking how long is a piece of string? Let's delve in.
Stockholm City Council recently agreed to ban all outdoor advertising that perpetuated sexist stereotypes from its city. Daniel Hellden, one of the capital city's deputy mayors has been pushing for the ban for three years. He explained that sexist advertising had made his own daughters “feel bad” and he did not want Stockholm to have a part in it.
Stockholm is not the first city to issue a ban on sexist advertising. Paris also voted to ban billboards that included sexist stereotypes or “any degrading, dehumanising, or offensive representations of women or men” in 2017.
There are no plans afoot for cities like London to follow suit, but perhaps there should be. Over the last few years the UK's Advertising Standards Agency has cracked down on adverts that perpetuate negative gender stereotypes such as the “beach body ready” adverts. It has also been fighting for new guidelines for the portrayal of women in ad campaigns and tougher rules to prevent body shaming in advertising.
The ASA reported that a review conducted in July last year found that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads contributed to harm for adults and children. Ella Smillie, the lead author of the report, said: “Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards in the areas we've identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”
But perhaps an all out ban on sexist advertising, certainly on billboards, would be a swifter solution. The difficulty, as we have seen only recently, is reaching an agreed consensus on what constitutes sexist.
Just last week the ASA investigated complaints about two adverts. An advert for Tunnocks tea cakes showing a female tennis player holding a tea cake at the top of her bare thigh with a slogan saying “serve up a treat”. This advert was banned on the basis it objectified women.
However, an ad for Paco Rabanne's aftershave XS, which showed a male model undressing in a bathroom while women secretly watched, was not banned as it was considered the advert was “humorous in tone and not humiliating or denigrating to the man”.
Maybe it's simply time advertisers did away with the tired old adage “sex sells” and came up with some bold new ideas?
It's just like the lilac lapel coat from Swedish design house Acne Studios, it's completely impractical - see it here - but that doesn't mean it's any the less desirable.