Italian Advertising SRO stays focused on ‘transparency’ and gender stereotypes.

Careful when stereotyping the sexes and trivializing the role of males and females.

"Sex sells", a credo hard to overcome. The Italian SRO questions - and halts - discriminating ads.

In several posts I have reported that both, insisting on ‘transparency’ as well as preventing gender stereotypes, keeps the IAP busy (IAP is the local advertising industry self-regulation organization).  Hence, no wonder that these topics are to be found also in many decisions delivered by the IAP’s Jury.

Marketing to children

A renown brand producing and distributing children’s clothing thought it was nice to promote its new line through a press campaign showing, girls wearing makeup and a beauty contest winner sash and crown, and boys in sportswear, while lifting weights in a gym. The IAP’s Review Board considered such campaign as in breach of article 10 of the SRO Code, which sets that “Marketing communication should not offend moral, civil and religious beliefs. Marketing communication should respect human dignity in every form and expression and should avoid any form of discrimination, including that of gender.” It therefore issued a cease and desist injunction against the campaign (no.  14 of February 1, 2018). In  the  Board’s  view,  the  campaign:  (i)  indulged  in  offering  a  stereotyped presentation  of  the  sexes  and  trivialized  the  role  of males  and  females  since childhood, (ii) by  suggesting that females  primarily ‘ focus on their  beauty’, while males  concentrate  on  ‘building  their  muscles’,  it  conveyed  an  outdated  image  of gender roles, capable of being perceived as offensive by the public and hardly in line with the sensitiveness and the equality requirements of a modern society, (iii) targeted an audience (of minors) not yet ready to elaborate critically the message delivered.

Automotive ads and scantily-clad models.

Apparently the automotive sector is not capable of promoting car models without relying on sexist stereotypes. In fact, two days earlier, the Review Board took issue with another press campaign, which it considered as offensive and denigrating to women’s image. In this case, a car dealer had no better idea than that of pushing a new city car by showing it and a curvy model in a white dress from the back under the headline “Smoking hot ... rear view!” The Review Board considered the car-model association as completely unjustified and felt that the model’s only function was that of attracting attention, while no product relevance could be found. Resulting the female body in nothing else than an ‘easily accessible object of desire’, the Board held the ad as denigrating to women’s image and halted the campaign.

"Indirect marketing" and transparency requirements.

Making clear – and immediately perceivable - when messages with a reference to a certain product or service pursue a promotional intent, constitutes one of the basic requirements for commercial communication. Acknowledging the significant impact of influencers’ performances on online advertising, the local SRO (IAP) has also repeatedly flagged its concern about transparency issues linked to this new business strategy. Hence, it is not surprising that the IAP is now dedicating scrutiny to all forms of ‘indirect marketing’, praising the characteristics of products and services without disclosing business connections with the brands mentioned – or the promotional intent of references made to them - in content not clearly marked as advertising.  
A few weeks ago, the Review Board had a look at links, which appeared in the online version  of  a  newspaper  and  transferred  visitors  to  third  party  webpages  high lightening and promoting products under headlines such as: “Tights in printed and embroidered fabrics ... a blaze!”, “Personalized progressive glasses”, “If you are over 35,  you’ll  love  this  game”, etc. In the Board’s view, such ‘promotional links’, even though displayed in distinct sections (headlined “Visit also” or “From the Web”), were not sufficiently separated from the pages’ editorial content, therefore appearing capable of determining likelihood of confusion. The Board reminded the newspaper that a clear and immediately perceivable distinction – both, as to formal aspects as well as with respect to substantial ones – had to be made between editorial content and promotional messages. In absence of such separation – which the Board found was the case – the questioned links were found falling afoul of the prescriptions of the SR Marketing Code and the newspaper was therefore ordered to cease the practice (Article 7 of the Code sets: “Marketing communication must be clearly distinguishable as such. In the media and in the marketing communication when news and other editorial matter are presented to the public, it should be ensured that the marketing communication is readily distinguishable as such”).