The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has called on Volkswagen South Africa to withdraw a radio advertisement for the Amarok V6 after a complaint branded it “extremely sexist”.

Professor Susan Goldstein lodged the complaint with directorate of the ARB, submitting that the commercial (which was aired on 702) represented “gender stereotyping” and was “harmful” in a local environment of “toxic masculinity and among the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world”.

The radio advert depicts a man shopping for shoes with his female partner, with the voiceover stating the following:

“It’s dusk and you’re in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by predators hunting for fresh prey. And they found it. 50 percent off all shoes. They attack, lunging mercilessly. As you guard the 12 shopping bags, seated on a bench alongside the other men, you watch the feeding frenzy take place. This is Shoe Sale Country and you don't belong here, man. This is not your habitat, so go where you belong in the V6 Amarok. Visit your Volkswagen dealership for great Amarok V6 offers today, man.”

VW SA – which it should be pointed out isn’t a member of the ARB – responded that the commercial was intended as a "parody or hyperbole" and that it included a “harmless exaggeration of a real-life scenario” intended to amuse listeners. The local arm of the Wolfsburg-based firm furthermore submitted that the advert did not promote or depict any violence against one gender.

But the watchdog ultimately disagreed, ruling that “the use of gender stereotypes in advertising contributes to the ongoing and systemic gender inequality so prevalent in South African society”.

“The commercial entrenches the gender stereotype that men do not like to shop and feel out of their depth in a shoe sale environment. Furthermore, the continued emphasis on the word ‘man’, inviting ‘man’ to test drive the VW vehicle, conveys the message that the vehicle in question is for men, marketed at men and driven by men,” the ruling said.

“The overall take out is that there are certain environments in which either men or women are more comfortable and where they naturally belong – women are comfortable shopping for shoes, and men are comfortable driving high-end bakkies.”

The ARB went on to say the analogy drawn between shoe shopping and a frenzied hunt firstly “creates the impression that the shoe-shopping women are in their natural environment, acting purely on animal instinct” and secondly “compares women to wild animals, as compared to the more civilised male characters who observe them”.

“The directorate acknowledges the attempt at humour, but is of the view that in the current climate prevailing in South Africa, there is no room for any type of gender stereotyping, however harmless these may seem at first glance. The commercial does indeed cause offence by condoning and legitimising gender stereotypes,” it said.

The ARB thus concluded the commercial was in breach of Clause 1 and 3,5 of Section II of the Code, requesting that VW SA “withdraw the commercial in accordance with the provisions of Clause 14 and Clause 15,3 of the Procedural Guide”.

Members of the ARB were furthermore instructed not to accept the radio commercial for publication.

Read the full ruling here...