Car companies are engaged in a perpetual battle to stand out from the crowd and attract buyers for their four-wheeled wares. Sometimes this means that they go too far with a particular advertisement and draw the ire of advertising regulators as a result. This is what just happened to Volkswagen in the UK, where the firm had an ad for its new electric Golf banned from TV. Watch the 30-second clip and then try to guess why it was pulled:
So…any ideas? Was it too scary? Did it bring a competitor into disrepute? Were there any untrue statements in it? The answer to all those questions is no. So why was it banned?
Well, according to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, three viewers complained that the spot “perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by showing men engaged in adventurous activities in contrast to a woman in a caregiving role.” That’s right: Three people didn’t like the fact that it showed men as adventurers, athletes and astronauts, while the only women in the commercial were a sleeping climber and a mother sitting on a park bench.
The women were shown in passive roles, while the men did all the action stuff, including driving around in the new e-Golf
Volkswagen, in its defense, argued that the ad merely shows the ability of the human spirit to adapt to changing circumstances, and that it had no intention of perpetuating gender stereotypes. Unfortunately for the German carmaker, the ASA didn’t share that viewpoint and banned the advert. In its published ruling, the agency says that according to its Code of Broadcast Advertising, “advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense.” The watchdog seems to have taken particular offense with the fact that the women were shown in passive roles—sleeping in the tent and babysitting at a park—while the men did all the action (and fun) stuff, including driving around in the new e-Golf, the actual product which the ad was trying to sell.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this ruling, it definitely shows the direction the world is moving into. Many years ago, it was perfectly fine for TV ads to show family men driving their new cars home and being greeted by the cooking and cleaning wife. These days, people expect a bit more balance and fewer old stereotypes. Even though the clip wasn’t really that bad in this department, maybe VW should consider a different approach next time and show female race car drivers instead.