The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has issued an industry-wide crackdown on gender-stereotypical and hyper-sexualised adverts, amid fears that influencer marketing is contributing to rising mental health issues and pay inequality.

Set to cover adverts in newspapers, magazines, on television, in cinema, on leaflets and on the internet, the new rules will also apply to paid-for ‘influencer’ posts by celebrities on social media channels such as Instagram, providing that the brand has final approval over the post and not the influencer.

With the influencer market significantly expanding in recent years, a ruling such as this will change how products are marketed to its customers on social media and other channels. The marketing strategy has often been used to reach out to tech-conscious millennials.

A 2016 Twitter survey found that “nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer”, and “when looking for product recommendations, 49% of respondents to our survey said they relied on influencers”. Google has noted a 325% increase in ‘influencer marketing’ searches over the past year.

Under the new rules, the ASA has confirmed that from June 2019, British firms will no longer be permitted to depict men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical activities, nor will they be able to show a person being unable to complete a task as a result of their gender.

Writing in ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: A report on gender stereotypes in advertising’, The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) stressed that “while harmful stereotypes are not endemic in advertising and advertising is not the only factor that reinforces these stereotypes, it is appropriate to restrict ads that include the kinds of stereotypical depictions highlighted in this guidance”.

The report added that “certain kinds of gender stereotypes can negatively reinforce how people think they should look and behave, and how others think they should look and behave, due to their gender. This can lower their self-esteem and limit their aspirations and ability to progress in key aspects of their personal and professional lives with harmful consequences for them and for society as a whole”.

The decision was coincidentally announced on the 100th anniversary of women being given the right to vote in UK elections, and is being considered as a step in the right direction for promoting equality. The move is said to be partly prompted by the public outcry over Protein World’s 2015 advert which depicts a bikini-clad woman and promised to make women “beach body ready”.

CAP Project Lead & Regulatory Policy Executive, Ella Smillie, told The Guardian: “We don’t see ourselves as social engineers, we’re reflecting the changing standards in society. Changing ad regulation isn’t going to end gender inequality but we know advertising can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, which can limit people’s choices or potential in life.”

She highlighted the negative real-world impacts that gender-inequality has, as emphasised by the existing gender pay-gap, large numbers of men struggling with mental health issues and statistics showing there are low rates of women in STEM jobs.

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