Britain’s Ad Police Strike Again

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Image: Volkswagen

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It’s become something of a fascination for this writer: scrutinizing the latest car commercial to earn the wrath of Britain’s all-seeing Advertising Standards Authority — an ominous and monolithic-sounding name if there ever was one.

One assumes there’s a moisture-stained, Brutalist-style concrete structure dedicated to preserving the sensibilities of UK viewing audiences somewhere in the greater London area. Bureaucrats and other pencil-pushers file in after abandoning their Austin Allegras and Morris Marinas in a rain-soaked parking lot, umbrellas in hand.

Having said that, let’s move on to the latest car company to run afoul of the UK ad cops: Volkswagen.

A new ad for VW’s e-Golf did not meet the ASA’s new standards on sexism, which makes one wonder how such an agency would have responded to those racy MG and Triumph ads from the 1970s.

VW raised ASA’s eyebrows not for having a full-figured woman in a racy negligee sprawled across the hood of a TR7 that someone somehow managed to jam into a bedroom, but by showing a woman “engaged in a stereotypical care-giving role,” the authority stated. Specifically, sitting on a park bench next to a stroller, coffee in hand. The ad is now banned.

While this might sound like an unnecessary freakout over something completely innocuous, a quick peek at the ad (click to expand) shows Volkswagen really shot itself in the foot:

“When we learn to adapt, we can do anything,” the ad states, showing people engaged in thrilling pursuits like floating around in space and performing a record long jump while wearing a prosthetic leg. Men floating in space and jumping. Had VW simply shown men and woman doing wild and incredible things, then cut to the lady in the bench, all might have been forgiven. I say “might,” as we’re dealing with the government here.

While VW protested, claiming its ad showed people of both genders “taking part in challenging situations,” the ASA wasn’t having it.

“We acknowledged that becoming a parent was a life-changing experience that required significant adaptation, but taking care of children was a role that was stereotypically associated with women,” the ASA stated.

In June, the ASA updated its standards to reflect the concerns of activist groups concerned with sexism. The new rules ban “gender stereotypes which are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offense.”

Before you unleash howls of vitriol over the ASA’s perceived gender bias, just know that it also banned a Philadelphia cream cheese ad for portraying men as useless clumps of organic matter who couldn’t properly care for a child if their life depended on it. Around here, at least, it seems the “smart woman, impossibly dumb guy” is the only acceptable ad template. While rigid, the ASA at least applies its standards across the board.

Which doesn’t shield the agency from criticism, of course. Not long ago, the ASA banned a Ford Mustang ad for suggesting the car could go fast, and that this might be fun for the driver. Frankly, we’re not sure how any auto company manages to air an ad in the UK showing their vehicles on the road, or even with the engine running. Viewers might find themselves stimulated.

[Source: DW, CNN] [Image: Volkswagen]