CARU Determines Primark’s Advertising Furthers Negative Gender Stereotypes

Advertising Law

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of BBB National Programs has recommended that Primark US Corp. (Primark) modify its children’s products and their associated advertising messages to not violate CARU’s recently revised Advertising Guidelines (the Ad Guidelines), which provide that “[a]dvertising should not portray or encourage negative social stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination.” Primark’s advertising was challenged by CARU through its routine monitoring of children’s advertising and online services.

Primark advertised its clothing products as “Girls Clothes” and “Boys Clothes” on the company’s website and social media and in stores. According to CARU, some of the products contained different slogans depending on whether the clothing was designed for a boy or girl. For example, some products advertised as “Girls Clothes” included slogans such as “Be Kind, Be Happy,” “Kindness always wins,” “Always Perfect,” “Grateful, humble and optimistic,” and “Be good, do good.” Some products advertised as “Boys Clothes” included slogans such as “Change the game,” “Born to win,” “Power,” “Champion,” “Total Icon” and “Awesome Adventures.”

CARU found that Primark’s products did not comply with its Ad Guidelines because Primark’s separate lines of messaging on the clothing advertised to girls and boys “create a dichotomous world of goals and attributes—those appropriate for girls and those appropriate for boys.” CARU questioned “the appropriateness of the gender-restrictive advertising messages on the Primark products” and whether they furthered “negative stereotypes about boys and girls,” specifically that “boys should only embrace or aspire to power, action, and assertiveness, while girls should only embrace or aspire to being well-behaved, humble, and agreeable.” CARU stated that such messaging can be “harmful to each gender’s development, well-being, and mental, physical, and emotional health.”

CARU noted: “Internationally, news articles and social media reactions to Primark’s gendered clothing line campaign similarly expressed concern—and even outrage—at the harmful stereotypes promoted by the campaign. Reactions included comments that it was ‘hugely sexist,’ and ‘outdated and unhelpful to both boys and girls.’”

Primark argued that it caters to all preferences in clothing, noting that some clothing it advertised as for boys includes slogans such as “kindness makes the world go round,” and two sweatshirts it designed as unisex include slogans such as “kindness, happiness, together” and “happy.” CARU was not persuaded by Primark’s argument because its review of Primark’s website and social media pages demonstrated that most Primark products included slogans “representing gendered, negative stereotypes.”

Primark also argued that CARU lacked jurisdiction over the inquiry because CARU’s jurisdiction only extends to commercial messages or messaging directed toward children under the age of 13 that promote the sale of products or services, while CARU’s inquiry was focused on the products themselves. CARU again was not persuaded by Primark’s argument, reasoning that “the messages on the clothing are indeed commercial messages whose purpose is to promote the sale of the clothing.” Primark’s advertising messages on the products were also directed toward children, according to CARU, as evidenced by the child-oriented designs and colors on the clothing.

For these reasons, CARU recommended that Primark modify its products and their associated advertising messages to comply with the Ad Guidelines. Prior to CARU’s decision, Primark informed CARU that it had already taken corrective actions to address CARU’s concerns, including launching an internal review of issues of gender, race, ethnicity, disabilities and other characteristics relating to its children’s clothing and campaign imagery. In its advertiser statement, Primark stated that although it supports the values expressed in CARU’s Ad Guidelines, Primark “do[es] not advertise to children” but will “take CARU’s recommendations into account as [it] develop[s] children’s products in the future.”

Why It Matters

This decision showcases CARU’s approach to enforcing its recently revised Ad Guidelines and how CARU views the applicability of those guidelines as they pertain to consumer products. CARU found that the different messaging on clothing advertised as “Girls Clothes” versus clothing advertised as “Boys Clothes” propagated negative stereotypes about gender, failing to comply with the Ad Guidelines. CARU’s reasoning that the slogans on the clothing itself constituted commercial messaging directed toward children, thus falling under the purview of CARU’s jurisdiction, is also informative on what types of messaging can be challenged in a CARU proceeding.

In addition to working with legal counsel to ensure CARU compliance, advertisers can take advantage of CARU’s Supporters’ Council, which provides benefits to help members with their compliance. CARU also offers prescreening services to help advertisers spot and correct problems with messaging before ads and promotional websites go live.



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