Is Boots Ad Sexist?

Boots The Chemist has made a mildly sexist TV ad (not the one pictured) with the tagline “when he’s ill and you don’t have time to be –  get cold and flu products for just 99p at Boots”.


Well, The Men’s Health Forum has posted the ad showing “men going down with ‘man flu’ at the slightest cough and women soldiering on” and asked an important question…..

“Is this a good laugh or just the sort of thing to make men even less likely to go to the doctor when they’re ill?”

You could be forgiven for thinking that these men’s health chaps are a humourless bunch for even posing the question but do they have a point?


To help you come to your own conclusion before voting on the Men’s Health Forum online poll, The Men’s Network has sought to answer the following questions?

  • Who does take more time off sick – men or women?
  • Who is more likely to go the doctor with an illness  – men or women?
  • Who is more likely to not get a diagnosis for an illness – men or women?
  • Who is Boots more committed to helping commercially – men or women?
  • Is Boots – as a public sector supplier – in breach of Equalities legislation?


That one is easy men work more hours than women and take less time off work according to Government statistics:

  • Women take 50% more time off work than men
  • 79% of men in the UK work compared to 70% of women
  • 73% of Men are self-employed or full-time employees compared to 44% women
  • Women are more than four times more likely to work part-time (26% compared with 6%)

Research by the London School of Economics has also shown that when paid work and unpaid work (such as childcare, housework and house maintenance) is taken into account men do more than their fair share at home and at work


Again its women who make more than 49 million appointments a year compared to men who make around 34 million appointments.

Men also miss a higher proportion of doctor’s appointments – possibly because they find it harder to take time off work – not attending nearly 9% (3.1 million) of their appointments, while women do not attend nearly 7.3% (3.6 million).


Well this is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “joke” that women soldier on bravely while men are wimpy hypochondriacs it is completely at odds with the jokes about men refusing to ask for help or directions.

The truth is that that the joke about men not getting help rings more true. There are many key areas where men are less likely to get the vital healthcare help they need. Here are just three examples

When you start to consider that in the real world, real men, really are suffering from undiagnosed illnesses like diabetes, depression and cancer then the joke that women soldier on bravely while men are bunch of wimpy hypochondriacs begins to wear a little thin.

And it doesn’t really serve either these men – or the women in their lives who care about their sons and fathers and partners and want them to get the healthcare they need.

And it makes you wonder why as a commercial organisation would you seek to ridicule and misrepresent 50% of your potential market in this way? Which begs the question…..


Well Boots says that it’s purpose is to “help people look and feel their best” and that it believes in “making a difference” and is “proud of the contribution we make to the wellbeing of the communities we serve”

So you’d expect Boots to serve men and women equally and be mindful of the fact that one of the key barriers to helping men “feel good” is that they are less likely to access healthcare and get the right diagnosis than women.

So perpetuating the myth that men are wimpy hypochondriacs and women soldier on bravely through illness is not only NOT based on the statistical reality of men’s health but actually adds to the barriers that men face – because making out that men are wimps and hypochondriacs can hardly contribute to getting more men into health services and getting diagnosed early – which is what is needed if Boots wants to help improve men’s health.

And Boots does say that is committed to “develop campaigns and information which support the public health agenda” so you’d expect them to be far more mindful of this kind of advertising

But then when you dig just a little deeper you’ll find that Boots is more committed to helping women than it is men – as its CSR policy specifically states that it will seek to “develop campaigns and information which support the public health agenda – PARTICULARLY THOSE MOST RELEVANT TO WOMEN!”

So the answer to the question who is Boots more committed to helping commercially – is women – a fact that is reflected in its ads that mock men and celebrate women; is reflected in its commitment to public health campaigns and information that favour men over women and is reflected in its instore fundraising appeals for women’s charities like Breast Cancer Care and the Eve Appeal.

But at least Boots is open and honest about the fact that it favours women, surely that’s it’s commercial prerogative……or is it?


Now this is an interesting question and we don’t profess to be legal experts here but it is worth noting that as Alliance Boots’ pharmaceutical wholesale division serves over 150,000 pharmacies, doctors, hospitals and health centres via over 360 depots it is taking a lot of tax payers money – how much, we don’t know right now.

The Government’s view on suppliers promoting gender equality is that the public sector has an important opportunity to use its purchasing power to promote equality where possible. It believes that it is right that public money is spent on goods and services in a way that advances the Government’s public policy objectives on equality.

In simple terms the public sector can demand that any of its suppliers treat their own staff and customers equally irrespecttve of their gender.

As Boots is a substantial government supplier and therefore expected to advance the Government’s public policy objectives on equality – it is reasonable to ask how is Boots commitment to “develop campaigns and information which support the parts of the public health agenda that are MOST RELEVANT TO WOMEN – support health equality between men and women.

As Alliance Boots employs over 115,000 staff and operates more than 3,250 retail stores with around 3,150 of these hosting pharmacies – we could ask – what’s it like working for men working for an employer that runs ads mocking men for being hypochondriacs and celebrating women for “soldiering on” regardless when the truth is that women take 50% more time off work than men and men are less likely to go to the doctors and more likely to live with an undiagnosed condition.

What’s it like as a man working in a store where all the campaigns and information that Boots develops to support the public health agenda are MOST RELEVANT TO WOMEN?

As a supplier to a Public Body Boots is required to have evidence of its compliance with equality practice that meets the Government’s own requirements.

We’re no experts on law but it does see that Boots’ approach isn’t within the spirit with modern Equalities thinking such as the European Goods and Services Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services that aims:

  • To prevent direct discrimination based on sex which occurs when one person is treated less favourably, on grounds of sex, than another person in a comparable situation
  • To prevent indirect discrimination where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of the other sex
  • To prevent harassment: where an unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment – like running a business where statistics suggest that the women staff will be taking 50% more time off than male staff whilst publicly running adverts that mock men for being wimps who take time off work whilst women have to bravely soldier on.


Well, we’ll leave you to decide but if you’re feeling a bit sniffy about their ad then don’t be a typical male wimp lying in bed all day whilst your brave womenfolk run around after you – click here and leave a comment about Boots (Sexist?) Man Flu ad at the Men’s Health Forum site today.

And for another example from the “men are stupid” school of advertising – check out Oven Pride’s – So Easy A Man Can Do It ad from 2009 here.


Glen Poole is UK co-ordinator for International Men's Day, Director at the consultancy Helping Men and news editor of insideMAN magazine. Follow him on twitter @HelpingMen or find out more about his work at

Posted in NEWS, World News On Men's Issues
23 comments on “Is Boots Ad Sexist?
  1. Nick Woodall says:

    This is a really interesting article. It’s easy to be accused of being po-faced about issues like this (and it is important to retain a sense of proportion) but, for several decades now, men have been the objects of ridicule in advertising and this can and does have an impact on both attitudes and behaviour.

    Men do not, generally, interact with health providers in the same way that women do and it can lead to tragic consequences. We need more campaigns that treat men’s health seriously and encourage health awareness rather than silly jibes about ‘man flu’.

  2. Steve says:

    **** Boots – Boycott these sexist *******!

  3. Steve says:

    blah blah awaiting moderation

    • glenpoole says:

      Thanks for your feedback Steve – we understand your anger at the Boots advert – unfortunately we can’t post your comment at present because of language used to express your viewpoint but if you want to resubmit a comment using more moderate language we’ll be happy to publish it – Best Regards – The Men’s Network

  4. glenpoole says:

    Apparently research has shown that the term ‘Man-flu’ could be having a negative impact on men’s health. Research commissioned by Pfizer has revealed that over 40% of men (43%) agree that the term is denying them the right to be ill and over half (52%) agree it is preventing them from seeking advice for a legitimate illness

  5. Piperian says:

    The worst thing with this advert is that they condone people visiting public places whilst full of cold or flu-as long as you use their products. Perhaps the increase in cold and flu through cross infection will be good for their buisness. Imagine if the advert was the other way around, and it was sexist against women, it would never have come out.

  6. Laura says:

    Thanks for visiting at my site. I hope you enjoyed yourself, and will come back again. I’ll share my thoughts with you on the “man-flu” issue here…

    I do not understand how a 30-second tv commercial is “preventing” men from getting the health care that they need. Are these men being forcibly held down by some sort of rope that’s shot out of the television when the ad comes on? Tied to their beds so they can’t get up? No. THEY are choosing for themselves that they don’t need to go to the doctor for whatever reason.

    This ad is not sexist or evil, it’s playing on a stereotype in a humorous way – and we all know that stereotypes have a basis in truth. Men are used to being cared for by the women in their lives. It’s how women are – they are the nurturers. So we (women) feel it’s our responsibility to take care of our men when they’re sick, regardless our condition. That’s what this ad is saying, not that men shouldn’t seek medical attention.

    (for comparison, how many ads for household cleaning products are aimed directly at women? When was the last time you saw a guy putting underwear into a washer, and concernedly sniffing at the t-shirts? Is that sexist? and whether it is or not, is it true? Ads rely on stereotypes to get their point across in a short and humorous fashion)

    I agree with you that it’s a problem – men not dealing with their health issues. But to hold a pharmacy or a TV commercial responsible? That’s just silly.

  7. glenpoole says:

    Thanks for your comments Laura

    It all really depends on whether you believe that distinct groups of people face barriers in life – in education, work, relationships, health etc

    if you believe groups do face barriers then the question is do you believe that we collectively should support people to overcome those barriers

    And whether you believe that or not – the approach to public health in the UK is to identify barriers to good health and help people overcome those barriers

    And the fact is that research shows that around half of men say these types of adverts mocking men for being wimps are a barrier to them accessing healthcare

    This supports evidence that men are far more likely to have undiagnosed conditions like depression, diabetes, cancer etc and that one of the many barriers that men face is the social conditioning that creates an expectation that “real men” are strong and independent and don’t need help

    We all collectively create that social conditioning that contributes to men finding it more difficult than women to get the help and support they need – and these adverts help feed that social conditioning that is one of the barriers that men and boys face to good health

    So if you believe that distinct groups of people face barriers in life – in education, work, relationships, health etc – and if you believe that as a society we should support and help all groups to live healthy lives – then you need to ask how can we address the fact that the way we condition men and boys is barrier to them enjoying good health

    That is one of the reasons why The Men’s Network exists because while there is a focus on addressing the barriers that other groups face to good health – eg women – there is not a similar focus on the barriers that men face

    Thanks for visiting our site and thanks for your thoughts

    The Men’s Network

  8. glenpoole says:


    Thank you for contacting us about our Christmas adverts.

    When planning our Christmas advertisements this year we decided we wanted to appear light hearted and comical. It was never our intention to cause upset to anyone and of course I appreciate your concerns. I must confirm that we do believe that men can look after themselves and others.

    Unfortunately, I’m unable to share any statistics with you regarding absences between men and women, who work at Boots. I must, however, stress that any research behind this advertisement was not taken from Boots’ staff.

    I’ve now shared your comments with our Marketing team and they’ve asked me to extend their sincerest apologies to you. They added that your feedback will be useful when discussing future marketing campaigns, particularly when we’re trying to take a more light-hearted approach.

    Thank you once again for sharing your passionate comments with us. If I can offer any further assistance please contact our Customer Care team on 08450 70 80 90 and ask for me directly.

    Kind regards,

    Alan Green
    Senior Customer Manager

    Boots Customer Care.
    If you need to contact us again and your query is about queries please call 0845 609 0055,or email

  9. Laura says:

    Honestly, and maybe it’s because I’m in America and have different cultural experiences than those in England, I *don’t* think there are barriers placed before distinct groups of people. I truly don’t. I’ve seen black people succeed where “everyone” said they shouldn’t be – Condoleeza Rice, our former Secretary of State is an excellent example of this. A single black woman achieved one of the highest political positions in our country, based on her talents and her smarts. She did this in the face of a media which was constantly saying that “women (particularly non-white ones) face discrimination, and will never be put in positions of power… oh, wait…” Condoleeza didn’t let “societal norms” keep her from achieving her dreams.

    I feel it’s the same situation with men. If they need medical care, they need to go and get it. The ad that you show here, and the video that you commented on at my site, actually show that men ARE taking care of themselves, aren’t they? In both situations, the men are sick, and they’ve found a way to summon help: in your ad, they’ve recruited their wives to find meds, in my video, when the wife didn’t help him, he called in the paramedics. Yes, both were done tongue-in-cheek, but in both, the men took care of themselves. In yours, it was actually the WOMEN who were not caring for themselves, because they were both out – obviously sick – caring for the men, who were at home, waiting for cold medications.

    I will agree with you that there is a “real men” thing going on. “Real men don’t cry” is one that you hear all the time around here – until a manly football player does it, then it’s ok. In the same way, “take it like a man” becomes “real men seek medical help” when they decide to get up off their sick butts and do it for themselves. Again, this is being lead by our football players who are being held from playing if they are concussed in a particularly nasty play.

    So, yes, maybe society needs to catch up, and stop the macho garbage, but at the same time, being a MAN means doing what is right in the face of society telling you otherwise.

  10. glenpoole says:

    Hello again Laura

    That ‘real men don’t cry’ is a point in case Laura

    In the UK we know that while men and women experience depression at the same rate women are twice as likely to get diagnosed with depression

    Why don’t men come forward and get diagnosed with depression – because real men don’t cry

    Our collective attitudes have an impact on how individuals act

    Our collective ‘men don’t cry’ attitude results in individual men being twice as likely to be undiagnosed for depression and 3-4 times more likely to commit suicide

    Just as our collective “men are wimps who make a meal out of being ill” has a real impact on real individuals in the real world

    These shared social attitudes are invisible barriers – but they are barriers none-the-less

    And I agree with you that people like Condoleeza Rice demonstrate that no-one need have any personal limitations or barriers because of gender, ethnicity, sexuality etc – but they do

    Women earn less, men die younger, blacks do worse at school, children from single parents are more likely to commit crime, people on lower incomes are more likely to experience

    All these groups experience barriers – that need not hold any of them back individually – but unless we understand and acknowledge the different barriers that different groups experience – we can’t make it more likely that more individuals from these groups can prosper

    And for men and boys that means acknowledging that men’s health is far worse than women’s health in general – understanding the societal attitudes towards men is one of the barriers they face – and then collectively helping individual men and boys to over those barriers and live longer, happier, healthier lives

    But then if you don’t think that men and boys don’t face barriers to being mentally and physically healthy – then you don’t see the opportunity to improve the way the world works for everyone

    Thanks for taking time to visit and post again Laura


  11. […] to sexist TV adverts showing “men going down with ‘man flu’ at the slightest cough and women soldiering on” it […]

  12. barry.arnold says:

    As a carer for many years of a sick wife I find the theme of “man flu” and the whole advert extremely insulting and sexist , if we as men reversed it we would be condemned , the only group you can discriminate against is the white Anglo Saxon heterosexual Male, why is this ?

  13. glenpoole says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Barry – we exist to include all men and boys in areas like health, education, parenting, community safety and address some of the problems caused by excluding and discriminating against men – thanks for sharing

  14. Martin Byrne says:

    I have contacted Mother advertising about these ads. I remember seeing one just after a documentary about a group of men who, during the war, traveled to France to blow up a submarine base, fairly certain that they were going to die.

    Then came the ad that trotted out the two tired old myths – that women can ‘multitask’ and that men complain when ill.

    It made me furious. It makes every man I know furious, and the only people who have defended it to me are women. Sexism is alive and welll.

  15. […] articles on the portrayal of men in advertising we recommend Is Boots Ad Sexist? and Why DOES TV love to portray men as idle feckless […]

  16. Tom says:

    There was an instance at work the other day that sums the whole thing up. A male colleague was off sick and a female boss came to our department looking for him. When she was informed he was off sick her exact response was “man flu? Haha! ”
    Imagine the fuss if the roles had been reversed and a male boss had said “whats up with her, menstrual cramps? Haha” about a female employee.

  17. Barry says:

    The whole point about this is that white male heterosexual working age men are the only group left that advertisers can ridicule without fear of prosecution or bad press. if any of that group express an opinion even light-heartedly about any other group the outrage comes from all angles, it is the unfairness of this that makes these adverts both insulting and totally lacking in humour.

    It is also insulting to all the male carers in society staggering home to sick and bedridden partners after a days work to start all over again.

  18. ahmed says:

    i have found all recent advertisement compaign by boots sexist, specially heading into xmas season. No wonder women are proud of their boots points…not realising they spent thousands of pounds to get to £35 on their boots card!! and it doesnt end here..Boots is one of those shamed companies who dont pay their full tax to this country!!! keep going girls on making these firms more more and more profitable!!!

  19. […] recent UK examples have been the Boots Man Flu Ads and the Oven Pride So Easy A Man Can Do […]

  20. Steve W says:

    This is another example of the brazen cheek of women’s groups, that they spread this totally false idea that somehow men are vulnerable to illnesses and women soldier on, when the fact of the matter is that women take more sick leave than men, and also are more likely to turn up at the doctor’s surgery as soon as they feel unwell.

    Considering men are more likely to die of undiagnosed illnesses during their lifetime (because paradoxically men are less likely to seek medical help at the earlier stages of a possible serious illness – probably due to women’s accusations that they should “man up” and stop being wimps…), this obnoxious fallacy of women that men claim illness when they are not ill at all, should be stamped on in the interests of male health in general.

    This is an interesting article on the situation:

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