Stockholm is banning sexist and racist adverts – but where does the UK stand?

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Susan Devaney
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Outdoor adverts that perpetuate sexist and racist stereotypes will soon be banned in Stockholm. But what are the rules on advertising in the UK? 

The global advertising industry has come under increasing scrutiny in in recent years, as pressure (rightly) mounts on brands to avoid sending sexist or racist messages through their campaigns. In 2015, Protein World’s ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ ads sparked a furore – and there was an international outcry recently when H&M put a black child model in a T-shirt reading ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’.

Now, all outdoor advertising that perpetuates sexist or racist stereotypes is set to be banned from the capital of Sweden. Stockholm City Council is expected to approve the legislation, which was first agreed upon in December 2017, later this month.

Daniel Hellden, one of Stockholm’s deputy mayors, has been pushing for the ban for three years. He told BBC News that he hoped other cities across Sweden would soon follow Stockholm’s example.

“I know my daughters, they don’t like it. They feel bad,” he said. “We should not as a city be part of this sort of advertising. I have a responsibility to the citizens of Stockholm to ban this.”

Stockholm isn’t the first city to institute a ban on sexist and racist advertising. In 2017, Paris voted to ban billboards that included “sexist stereotypes”, “homophobic images”, “ethnic discrimination” or “any degrading, dehumanizing, of offensive representations of women or men”.

Stockholm City Council is expected to ban sexist or racist advertising in the next few weeks

But what’s the deal with advertising in the UK?

In recent years, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has cracked down on adverts that perpetuate negative gender stereotypes.

The ASA published a report into gendered stereotyping in advertisements in July 2017, proposing new guidelines for the portrayal of women in ad campaigns. It also suggested that tougher rules should be implemented to prevent ‘body shaming’ in advertising.

“Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children,” said Ella Smillie, the lead author of the report.

“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.”

In the past week alone ASA has investigated complaints about two adverts. An advert for Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, showing a female tennis player holding a tea cake at the top of her bare thigh, was banned by the regulator on the basis that it objectified women.

Estelle Yuen, a spokesperson for ASA, told “While the image was only mildly sexual in nature, when combined with the double entendre, ‘serve up a treat’, it implied the woman featured in the ad was the ‘treat’. We considered this to be viewed as demeaning towards women.”

The ASA also investigated an ad for Paco Rabanne’s men’s fragrance XS, which showed a male model undressing in a bathroom while women secretly watched. The watchdog received 120 complaints that the ad was objectifying towards both men and women, but decided against banning it.

“While there were complaints that the ad objectified the featured man, we considered the ad’s context and tone, which was humorous in nature and not humiliating or denigrating to the man,” Yuen said. “Therefore, we did not uphold complaints against it.”

CAP (the Committee of Advertising Practice) is currently developing new standards and updated guidance for advertisers, due to come into effect later this year.

The ASA has also attributed the same dedication to adverts deemed to be racist. In 2017, the regulator censured betting company Paddy Power after an ad featuring the boxer Floyd Mayweather was ruled as racist. 

Using a picture of a black boxer alongside Mayweather the company ran the headline ‘always bet on the black’, ahead of Mayweather’s comeback fight in Las Vegas in August. 

After receiving nine complaints, they concluded: “We considered that readers would . . . be offended by the invitation to always bet on the outcome of a boxing match based on a boxer’s race.”

Just last month, three complaints were made against an ad created by The Buck Inn in Sadberge. Posted on Facebook, the ad for their ‘German Grub Night’ featured the phrases ‘Graham Ze Chef’ and ‘Don’t Mention Ze War!’, as well as an image of a swastika-wearing Nazi soldier. 

The ASA ruled that the ads “must not appear again in their current form” and the use of Nazi imagery was “inappropriate and trivialised events of the Second World War and actions of the German Nazi party”.

Images: Jon Flobrant / Twitter


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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.