A television advert that lampoons men as incapable of performing simple domestic tasks has been cleared by advertising watchdogs.
The commercial, for an oven cleaning product, drew 673 complaints from viewers who felt it was sexist for portraying men as stupid and lazy.
But the Advertising Standards Authority rejected the complaints, saying the ad was ‘unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence’.
Critics said the verdict was out of line with years of ASA policy which has outlawed the demeaning of women in commercials.
Industry observers said the prevailing view now appeared to be that it is fine to treat men as sex objects or fools, as this represents turning a stereotype on its head and is therefore ironic and funny.
In the Oven Pride advert, a man is shown throwing a tantrum at the thought of having to clean an oven.
A voice-over says ‘so easy, even a man can do it’ as he is shown using the product with exaggerated delight while being watched by a disapproving pregnant woman.
Homepride Ltd, which manufactures the oven cleaner, said the advert was intended to raise awareness using tongue-in-cheek humour and that it was not unreasonable to use humour to play on natural gender differences.
The firm said it did not intend to cause offence and the commercial had brought an increase in sales, suggesting-many saw it as harmless fun.
A spokesman for the ASA said: ‘We noted that the ad used mild humour to refer to traditional gender stereotypes but considered that the overall impression was such that it did not portray either gender in a way that stigmatised, humiliated or undermined them by using harmful stereotypes.
‘We noted some might consider the humour in poor taste but concluded-that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.’
A study from the Chartered Institute of Marketing in 2001 found two thirds of people believe women are now portrayed in adverts as intelligent, assertive and caring, while men are shown as pathetic and silly.
Only 14 per cent said men came across as intelligent. The pattern is evident in the wimpish character featured in Mr Muscle household cleaner advertisements, while commercials for the drink Lambrini featured young, brash women who treated men as sex objects and figures of fun.