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Sexist ads still a problem in Sweden

Published söndag 10 januari 2016 kl 16.39
"The lady was still there, doing the dishes in the kitchen"
(6:26 min)
Elisabeth Trotzig, the advertizing ombudsman. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / Radio Sweden
Elisabeth Trotzig, the advertizing ombudsman. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / Radio Sweden

According to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman, they receive between 250 and 1,000 complaints each year, many of which concern gender discrimination.

Last year, the biggest category of complaints (45 percent) registered by the ombudsman had to do with gender discrimination, and of these, the ombudsman upheld 54 percent of the complaints. 

In Sweden, the advertizing ombudsman Elisabeth Trotzig says that almost half the complaints they handle in Sweden have to do with gender discrimination, which differs from Europe in general, in which more cases have to do with misleading advertising. She also points out that while other countries in Europe would view certain ads as being against taste and decency, Sweden sees them as discriminating against men or women.

As the advertising ombudsman, Trotzig's job is to prepare cases to put before the jury of at least 6 people, plus the chair, to decide whether a company should kill their ad. Often Trotzig and the jury agree, but not always, like in this case of a commercial for a dish-washing fluid that Trotzig recalls.

The ombudsman aims to push the industry to maintain high standards of ethics in advertising, and the vast majority of the complaints, about 90 percent, are made by consumers. The ombudsman makes its assessments based not on laws, but on an international code.

In about 40 percent of cases that are adjudicated, advertisers are told to pull their ad. The decisions are binding. The ombudsman doesn't have any sanctioning power, but Trotzig says that most of the time, advertisers comply and take down offending ads. But there are cases, she says, in which companies have flaunted the decisions.

Even though the advertising ombudsman is not an agency, but a self-regulatory organization founded and paid for by the industry, itself, Trotzig says there is a strong incentive for companies to obey the jury's decisions.

"We publish all our decisions, and I would say that is maybe the most effective sanction, when it comes to consumer trust," she says.

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