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Two ads banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes

By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Correspondent

A television ad for computer firm PC Specialist which featured only men and a poster ad for People Per Hour stating “You do the girl boss thing” have been banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes.

The ad for PC Specialist, a manufacturer and seller of bespoke PC computers, featured three men performing different activities including producing music and coding with a male voice-over which stated: “For the players, the gamers, the ‘I’ll sleep laters’, the creators, the editors, the music makers. The techies, the coders, the illustrators … From the specialists for the specialists.”

Some eight viewers complained that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting men in roles that were stereotypically male and implying that it was only men who were interested in technology and computers.

PC Specialist said its customer base was 87.5% male, aged between 15 and 35, and their product, branding and service had been developed for that target audience.

The firm said there was no comparison between men and women in the ad and the ad did not imply that women were not interested in computers.

New rules that came into effect in June last year state that ads “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence”.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ad repeatedly cut to images of only men, who were both prominent and central to the ad’s message of opportunity and excellence across multiple desirable career paths.

The ASA said: “We therefore considered that the ad implied that excellence in those roles and fields would be seen as the preserve of men.

“Because of that, we considered that the ad went further than just featuring a cross-section of the advertiser’s core customer base and implied that only men could excel in those roles.

“Although the guidance did not prohibit ads from featuring only one gender, we considered that because the ad strongly implied only men could excel in the specialisms and roles depicted we concluded the ad presented gender stereotypes in way that was likely to cause harm and therefore breached the code.”

The poster ad for PeoplePerHour, an online platform giving businesses access to freelancers, seen on the London Underground in November, featured an image of a woman and the text: “You do the girl boss thing. We’ll do the SEO thing,” referring to search engine optimisation.

The ASA said 19 people complained that the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting a woman running a business in a patronising way and by implying that women were not technologically skilled.

People Per Hour said the term “girl boss” was a reference to a book, popular culture movement and professional network.

They acknowledged that the “execution might unintentionally come across as sexist and demeaning to women” but said they had taken steps to rectify this by removing the word “girl” from the ad and issuing a public apology on their website.

The ASA said it was a well-established stereotype that men were more suited to positions of authority in the business world than women, and said that using the term “girl boss” implied that the gender of the person depicted was relevant to their performance in a managerial or entrepreneurial role.

The watchdog said it was also a well-established stereotype that women were not skilled at using technology and the sentence “We’ll do the SEO thing” was likely to be understood to mean that female “bosses” in particular needed outside help with IT matters.

The ASA said: “We acknowledged the steps taken to rectify those issues by removing the word ‘girl’ from the ad and issuing an apology.

“However, for the reasons given we concluded that the ad had the effect of reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes and that it breached the code.”