Boden has apologised for ads in its Mini Boden catalogue that have been accused of "shocking" sexism for stereotyping boys and girls.
One ad depicts a boy with a bike next to the words with copy including: "Boys start every adventure with a bike (or a pair of very fast legs)." On another ad, girls are encouraged to "fill your pockets (and wardrobes) with flowers".
Uploading images of the ads to Twitter, Sam Williams said: "Seriously Boden? Keep up."
A spokesperson for Boden apologised for the ads, saying: "It was not our intention to stereotype the roles of boys and girls in the recent catalogue. At Boden, we are totally committed to gender equality and firmly believe in equal roles and opportunities for boys and girls – we have a male founder and a female CEO, who are representative of the culture we propagate.
"In our past season, we have included 'gender busting' clothes in our Mini Boden ranges to help address the issue of gender equality in our childrenswear range. Summer 2019 sees the introduction of gender-neutral T-shirts, as well as a range of space prints for both boys and girls."
The criticism of the ads is significant because experts believe they would have likely fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Authority’s new rules on gender stereotyping, which come into force on 14 June and will ban ads that appear to promote problematic gender stereotypes.
Ali Hanan, chief executive of Creative Equals, said: "It's ads like this that are harmful, outdated, lazy and, well, they just plain suck. There are endless studies showing how marketing influences children's aspirations in life. Clearly, at Boden, for girls it's all about the new (floral clothes). For him, it's about mischief-making. Come on. This kind of work shows sexism at Boden is alive and kicking in 2019.
"The question we have to ask is: who created it? Who signed it off? And who didn't see this for what it is? In December 2018, after thorough research, the Advertising Standards Association and CAP have now passed guidelines against these harmful stereotypes. This hasn't come into play yet, but clearly this ad would fall foul of the new guidelines."
The Committee of Advertising Practice has published guidelines, including examples of harmful ads, to help advertisers navigate the new rules. The guidance suggests examples of scenarios that are likely to be problematic, such as campaigns that emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality and a girl’s one.
Ella Smillie, lead report author of the research, said consumers do not like seeing a lack of diversity in advertising, nor stereotypes with the potential to limit expectations. She explained that the role of the ASA is not to tell brands what they should be doing but to give them tangible examples of what they should avoid: "Challenging gender stereotypes can lead to creating brilliant creative advertising."
Research undertaken last year for Campaign revealed that advertising is increasingly out of step with society at large when it comes to gender stereotyping. According to the study, 77% of consumers believe that brands still perpetuate stereotypes with the clothes, shoes and toys they sell for girls and boys.
This article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign