Clever Decks, Advertising and the Role of the ASB

The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) is continuing to robustly assess complaints about advertising in Australia.  In January 2010, it reviewed and ultimately dismissed 24 complaints.  Many complaints were in relation to advertisements whose comic nature was considered inappropriate by complainants.  Among the complaints were allegations that the phrase “boys and their decks” in an advertisement for decking oils was an inappropriate double entendre as well as demeaning to males and sexist.  Complaints were also lodged against an Uncle Toby’s cereal ad which depicted a Japanese person eating tofu as being racially offensive and a sunscreen ad describing itself as “ginger’s best friend” as being offensive and discriminatory against red-heads.

The ASB administers the national system of self-regulation of the advertising industry via the Advertising Standards Board and an Independent Reviewer.  Those bodies promote compliance with various advertising codes such as a Code of Ethics, Children’s Code, and Food and Beverages Code.  People may complain to the Advertising Standards Board about ads which they consider to be offensive or inappropriate due to the use of language, discrimination, violence, portrayal of sex or nudity, other health and safety concerns, or the way in which food and drinks are marketed to children.

Complaints are largely made on the basis that the ads are overly sexual, discriminatory or violent.  The Board’s role is to consider the balance between socially acceptable advertisements and those which are genuinely inappropriate, placing it in a position in which it is often called upon to consider the bounds of political correctness.  Few would agree with complainants who alleged that the depiction of a Scottish marching band in correct uniform playing traditional highland music was an untrue and racist stereotype and therefore an inappropriate and discriminatory portrayal when made in relation to Scottish Angus beef.  Accordingly, the Board found that most people in the public would be likely to find the advertisement humorous and not offensive.

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