UK regulator banned Volkswagen ad for being ‘sexist’

The new rules introduced by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) at the beginning of the year bans the depiction of men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical activities. This ban is meant to help stop “limiting how people see themselves and how others see them and the life decisions they take”. So far, this new regulation has resulted in two commercials being banned: the first is by Philadelphia Cream Cheese featuring new dads bungling comically while looking after their babies. The second is the above banned Volkswagen ad that was deemed ‘sexist’.

In June, the ASA started clamping down on adverts that perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. It has thus decided to prohibit the banned Volkswagen ad from further publishing a spot perceived to be depicting males as the more adventurous gender, while women are portrayed as “delicate or dainty.” 

The ad for Volkswagen’s electric eGolf, which received 3 complaints, shows a series of scenes including two male astronauts in space and a male athlete performing the long jump with his prosthetic leg. The text then appears stating: “When we learn to adapt we can achieve anything.” Finally, the video then cuts to a mother seated on a bench with a baby stroller, who the ASA describes to be “engaged in a stereotypical caregiving role.” The ASA concludes, “By juxtaposing images of men in extraordinary environments… with women who appeared passive or engaged in a stereotypical caregiving role, we considered that the ad… gave the impression that they were exclusively associated with one gender.”

Volkswagen responded to the allegations saying that its ad was not sexist and that caring for a newborn was a life-changing experience about adaptation, regardless of the gender of the parent depicted. The ASA, however, believed that the ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm and upheld the ban. Critics agree with Volkswagen, however, saying the new rules are too draconian and that banning even the most innocuous use of gender stereotypes showed the watchdog had gone too far.

“The ASA seems to be out of sync with society in general,” said Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, an advertising expert at the law firm Lewis Silkin. “As it stands, the ASA’s definition of ‘harm’ is unworkable and urgently needs to be clarified. I hope that these advertisers seek an independent review of the latest decisions.”

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the UK’s new advertising regulations. Do you think that the banned Volkswagen ad is sexist? Or is this another example of regulators going too far? Share your opinions on social media or in the comments below.