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ASA Advertising Diversity & Inclusion

Berlin proposes ban on sexist billboard ads


By Robyn Darbyshire , Junior Content Editor

June 21, 2017 | 4 min read

Sexist ads could disappear from the streets of Berlin, as the city government has proposed a ban against billboard ads that feature women who are "weak, hysterical, dumb, insane, naive, or completely controlled by their emotions."


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Ads in which “a woman is barely dressed and smiling without reason, while a man is completely and comfortably clothed" would not be allowed. A panel of judges would use this criteria when considering whether an ad should be allowed on a billboard in the city.

According to the newspaper Deutsche Welle, the move from Berlin's city government aims to make the city a more welcoming place, although opponents to the billboard plans said that the city government officials "have no right to interfere in the free market.”

Stephen Loerke, chief executive officer at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), said this move can be seen “more as a symptom of a wider problem in society. Politicians become nervous as people are offended by ads in public places.”

Loerke added that he is seeing this trend rise and that we can expect to see more countries follow suit, but that the true answer is to tackle the crux of the issues which lies in people’s perceptions - which the advertising industry has the power to do and we are seeing with initiatives such as Unilever's Unstereotype Alliance which WFA is a part of.

This comes as earlier this year, in a similar move, Paris decided to no longer allow sexist ads on its public billboards, following a public outcry over Yves Saint Laurent's so-called "porno chic" campaign, while in London,body-shaming ads were banned from public transport by mayor Sadiq Khan last year in a bid to see the end of controversy surrounding ads such as the ‘Are You Beach Body Ready’ Protein World tube ad that sparked widespread criticism.

“Censorship is hardly ever the answer to any of marketing’s challenges,” said Gemma Jones, associate director at Space Doctors. “However, with brands – and governments – struggling to understand the intricacies of “sexist” images, the guidelines Berlin has outlined to shed its unofficial motto of “poor but sexy” are understandable if clumsy. To really understand which images are promoting gender inequality, which often happens in subtle ways, the industry needs to dig deeper to understand how symbols work together in context.”

“Brands, agencies, industry bodies and governments all need to take collective responsibility to tackle inequality and think beyond tired clichés,” she added.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) advise brands to take care not to depict women and men in demeaning, subservient, exploitative, degrading or humiliating ways. ASA’s media relations manager Shabum Mustapha said: “We will also be launching a report into gender stereotyping in advertising in the summer - the findings of which will tell us if our rules are in the right place or if we need to do more.”

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