Advertisements that perpetuate gender stereotyping have recently been in the spotlight after the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned adverts for Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Volkswagen's eGolf following complaints from the public that they featured men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical activities.
The ASA's action was taken following the introduction in June of a rule in the Advertising Codes that adverts 'must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence'. The rule applies to broadcast and non-broadcast media (including online and social media).
A further illustration that what may be intended as a well-meaning or light-hearted marketing or advertising campaign can inadvertently stray into the realms of discrimination involved a brewery that rebranded its beer 'Punk IPA' as 'Pink IPA' and sold it at a discounted price only to customers who identified as women. To defeat a discrimination claim in such circumstances, the promoter must show that the campaign is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
A customer launched proceedings against the brewery under the Equality Act 2010 after a barman at one of its pubs twice refused to sell him the Pink IPA because he was male. The price of the beer was 20 per cent lower than that applied to Punk IPA, which was available to all drinkers regardless of their gender. The customer only succeeded in purchasing the beer after telling the barman that he identified as female.
The brewery claimed that the campaign was a satirical attempt to highlight the gender pay gap and had the specific anti-discriminatory objective of encouraging discussion of gender inequality issues. The beer was sold as part of a four-week marketing campaign that commenced on International Women's Day. The 20 per cent markdown on price was said to reflect the difference between men's and women's pay in the UK.
However, the judge rejected the brewery's arguments and upheld the customer's direct sex discrimination claim. He was unconvinced that the campaign had enhanced awareness of the gender pay gap in any way or assisted women in overcoming the disadvantage of being paid less than men.
The customer was awarded £1,000 in damages to reflect the humiliation he had endured, and the brewery was ordered to pay his legal costs.