Are advertising and marketing guidelines constricting creativity?

Concerns regarding responsible advertising are nothing new. Advertising in the alcohol industry has been subject to tight controls for years. And the beauty industry has frequently come under fire for heavy-handed photoshopping and exaggerated product claims – remember the Clairol Nice ‘n’ Easy hair dye ad featuring Mad Men star, Christina Hendricks? The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the ad in 2015, after viewers complained that it would not be possible to go from Hendricks’ signature fiery red shade to blonde, just by using that one product. Which, incidentally, you can’t – Clairol later admitted the ad had actually been shot in reverse. Turns out Hendricks is a natural blonde. We’re sure Don Draper wouldn’t have been best pleased…

More recently, and throughout 2017, it seems gender portrayals have taken centre stage in the responsible advertising and marketing debate, amidst growing social conversations surrounding the issue of gender identity. As an integrated agency covering a range of services, we always want to ensure we’re up to date with the latest news and views, allowing us to stay ahead of the game and guaranteeing results for our clients that are not only creative, but relevant and current as well. Which is why we wanted to take a deeper look at recent guidelines, what they mean for advertising and marketing – and most of all, what they mean for creativity.



In July 2017, the ASA introduced new rules and tougher guidelines to help protect children from ‘restrictive’ gender norms, as part of its crackdown on gender stereotyping. The guidelines mean restrictions will be placed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics, that could potentially cause harm – including ads that mock people for not conforming.

High street giant John Lewis also jumped on board the bandwagon earlier this month – announcing that it had removed labels from all of its children’s clothing ranges, in a bid to make them more ‘gender-neutral’. But the move has been met with mixed reactions. Some consumers took to Twitter to voice their criticism, accusing the company of ‘pandering to the politically correct brigade’ – but then you can’t always please everyone! However, others were quick to applaud John Lewis for recognising the complexities of gender – with the decision being seen as a significant step in the right direction, for the most part.



So, why all the fuss? Obviously tackling issues such as gender identity (or racism, or ageism, or childhood obesity and so on) is great from a moral stance, but what does it have to do with selling products? And why is it so important that companies get on board?

According to global marketing consultancy Goodbrand, people are more likely to support a company they perceive as ‘doing good’ – and brands that promote their ethical stance are actually more likely to attract and retain affluent customers. After all, consumers vote with their wallets. In fact, a study by market research specialists Nielsen found that 55% of global online consumers, across 60 countries, said they were willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are ‘committed to positive social and environmental impact’.


“Brands that promote their ethical stance are actually more likely to attract and retain affluent customers.”


So it would seem that being responsible is all part of a wider (and smarter) brand strategy. Take Innocent Smoothies for example, whose entire business model was founded on the idea of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Its mantras of ‘leaving things a little bit better than when we find them’ and ‘creating a business we can be proud of’ are a clear indication of just the type of brand it wants to be – in fact its entire brand image is all about social conscience.



Whether you agree or not with the various rules set out by the ASA – the impact they have on the world of advertising and marketing is undeniable. So what exactly do these guidelines mean for creativity? Will they constrict ideas, slowly squeezing every last breath of inventiveness out of them – and ultimately cause creativity to dwindle?

Quite the contrary, if you ask us. We believe creativity is at its best when placed among constraints, because it pushes you to challenge your ideas and think differently. By being creative you can develop diverse content that allows for open and democratic customer choice – in fact, the most celebrated creative work is often that which goes beyond the traditional, and genuinely adds value to people’s lives.


“We believe creativity is at its best when placed among constraints, because it pushes you to challenge your ideas and think differently.”


Just look at outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, as an example. Its 2011 ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ ad tackled consumerism head on – encouraging people to think twice before they buy, and to only purchase products they actually need. It was a bold move, which was made even bolder when you consider the ad ran on Black Friday – a day otherwise reserved for monstrous levels of consumption. Of course, they know that doing good is good for business, so the subtext of the ad was really ’don’t think about buying anything else’.


This unorthodox approach to advertising and marketing has managed to successfully tell Patagonia’s story of capitalism, despite promoting an anti-consumerist agenda – proving time and time again that you can pursue both profit and purpose.

And then there is the classic tale of the Oxo building on the South Bank in London. At the time it was built in 1928, advertising in this area was banned, meaning the architect was not allowed to include the Oxo logo on the outside. So in an example of amazing inventiveness, when faced with constraints, the tower was built with a stack of three square windows on every side, each coincidentally designed with a circle, a cross and a circle in them – meaning it will continue to be displayed there permanently for all to see, as long as the building stands.

Here at Shine, creativity is at the forefront of what we do. And we’re always happy to work on a project, or in an industry, that has very specific guidelines. We’re also extremely conscious of the ‘political correctness’ minefield in which we all do business! But we love a challenge, and we know how to put our heads together to craft truly inspiring work – even when faced with a variety of external constraints.


To find out more about the work we do, check out our portfolio, and if you like what you see, and want to know more about what we can do for you, please email