‘Strip clubs, flying pigs, bikini-clad girls and sugary treats’

(Now that we have your attention!…) Earlier this year, we blogged on the Advertising Standards Bureau (“ASB”), the organisation responsible for administering a national system of advertising self-regulation, mainly through its Advertising Standards Board (“Board”). We’ve now had a look at how the Board dealt with the 47 complaints it considered in March this year, and there are some interesting lessons.

First, for those who think the ASB represents the ‘thought police’, this is simply not true. Of the 47 decisions we have reviewed, only three were upheld. It’s fair to say that many of the dismissed complaints concerned subject matter of questionable taste to some. This does indicate a robust approach to free speech. It’s only in very limited cases that the ASB will determine that the advertisement should be removed from circulation.

Secondly, this is a good news story about the benefits of self-regulation. In each of the three cases which were upheld, it appears the relevant advertiser complied with the ASB’s direction either to remove or modify the offending advertisement. Accordingly, whilst the advertising industry is renowned for pushing the envelope, this desire does not apparently extend to testing the enforceability of ASB directions.

Let’s have a more detailed look at the three complaints which failed to survive ASB scrutiny.

The first advertisement was an animated television commercial from Red Bull, which depicted a boy feeding the energy drink to his pigs. He went inside and asked his mother if he could go to a strip club, to which his mother responded, “When pigs fly!” Of course, the Red Bull caused the pigs to grow wings and away they flew. The final scene depicted the boy in a strip club in front of a ‘performer’ whose legs were visible . She removed her boa and threw it to the boy.

The Board said that a child asking his mother whether he could go to a strip club might be regarded as offensive by some members of the community. In addition, depicting a child at a strip club inappropriately linked a minor with sex. The ad was subsequently pulled by red Bull.

The second advertisement appeared on a website and depicted a woman wearing a bikini holding a grout gun. This, the Board said, breached the Advertiser Code of Ethics in that the woman was purely “to be looked at” and that she had no relationship with the product.

The final upheld complaint was a little more technical and concerned Donut King’s advertisement for the ‘Ice Age 3 combo’ on its website. The promotion was advertised as being “for only $4.95”. The Board considered that this breached clause 2.8 of the Code for Advertising and Marketing Communications to Children, which requires “[p]rices, mentioned in advertising or marketing campaigns to children, to be accurately presented in a way which can be clearly understood by children and not minimised by words such as ‘only’ or ‘just'”.

In contrast, here are a few examples of the 44 advertisements which the Board thought were okay…

•a TV commercial for Australia Pork in which “Jude” talks about “porking Rob”;

•an ad containing advice from Commonwealth Bank representatives to young boys that they shouldn’t “…get a girlfriend [because] they will want to spend your money on stuff”; and

•a banner on Fernwood Fitness’ homepage telling visitors to “JOIN NOW FOR FOX SAKE”.

What do you think?

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