I have previously criticized the new law, enforced by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), that bans gender stereotypes in advertising. It is the ultimate expression of the “nanny state” phenomenon in the United Kingdom where speech is increasingly regulated and sanctioned by the state along a best values agenda. In 2019, commercials for Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Volkswagen were banned that left many of us speechless, particularly those who wanted to use humor in commercial speech. The latest example of this censorship is UK retailer PC Specialist, which saw an advert banned simply because it showed three men excited over using a PC for gaming. The problem? Women like gaming too. Just having men therefore further a gender stereotype.
The advert has a voiceover stating “It’s the beginning of the end. The end of following. It’s the start of freedom, individuality, choice. It’s an uprising. An insurgence. For the players, the gamers, the ‘I’ll sleep laters’, the creators, the editors, the music makers. The techies, the coders, the illustrators. Bespoke, customised, like no other. From the specialists for the specialists. PC Specialist.”
Eight people, that’s right, eight, complained and the censors of the Advertising Standards Authority swooped in to ban the advert because it perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting men in roles that were stereotypically male. Just because the three actors were men, the Authority declared that the company was implying that it was only men who were interested in technology and computers.
The fact is that the company has a customer base that is almost 90 percent male so it went with young actors that reflected that based, a standard marketing decision. The explanation from the Authority shows how every problem looks like a nail when you all you have is a hammer:
“The ad repeatedly cut to images of only men, who were both prominent and central to the ad’s message of opportunity and excellence across multiple desirable career paths. We therefore considered that the ad implied that excellence in those roles and fields would be seen as the preserve of men. Because of that, we considered that the ad went further than just featuring a cross-section of the advertiser’s core customer base and implied that only men could excel in those roles.”
The Authority is a prominent example of how free speech is being radically curtailed in the United Kingdom under a slew of speech regulations and censorship provisions. It is also an example of how speech regulation becomes insatiable, particularly when you empower an office whose very mission is to find gender stereotyping that justifies its own existence.
Here is the commercial: