During the 2012 Christmas season, ASDA and Morrisons ran ads depicting mothers running errands, bustling around kitchens, preparing food, wrapping presents and attending Christmas plays. Complaints were made to the ASA on the basis that they were offensive and sexist because they reinforced outdated stereotypes of men and women in the home.

Morrisons responded to these claims by stating that its ad was a socially aware and thought provoking glimpse of the reality that faces many working mothers who bear the brunt of responsibility for Christmas preparations, and a “subtle and sensitive critique” which did not encourage discriminatory behaviour or treatment. ASDA acknowledges that its ad did not reflect universal experience, but pointed to its extensive customer research showing almost 2,000 mothers agreed with this depiction. ASDA’s ad also received complaints on the grounds that it could cause offence to single fathers, men who are in a primary domestic role and children who have lost their mothers, which appeared to be evidenced by the VO “behind every Christmas, there’s mum, and behind every mum, there’s ASDA”.

The ASA considered the ads under Rules 4.1 (ads must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18), 4.2 (ads must not cause serious and widespread offence against generally accepted, moral and cultural standards), and 4.8 (ads must not condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour or treatment), but the complaints were not upheld.

Perhaps most interesting about these adjudications is the ASA’s finding that the ASDA ad, which received over 600 complaints from members of the public, was not deemed to have caused “serious and widespread offence”. The ASA accepted that such depictions were not indicative of everybody’s Christmas experience but they did represent the experiences of certain of the supermarkets’ customer demographics.