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Why Ad Standards won't look at the Australian Marriage Forum ad

Recently the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has received a large number of complaints about an advertisement from the Australian Marriage Forum.

ASB has decided not to bring this to the Board for adjudication as this advertisement falls under the scope of political advertising, and does not fall within the scope of the AANA Code of Ethics.

Adjudicating on complaints about political advertising could be regarded as unduly restricting the implied constitutional freedom of political communication or interfering with the political process.

The advertising self-regulation system was established as an industry initiative with the objective of regulating commercial communications, not advertisements containing political claims aimed at influencing the political process.

In our view, it is not possible to make decisions about whether a political advertisement breaches the Code without the potential for being seen to be taking a political viewpoint.

It is important to the Board’s integrity that it is seen as an impartial adjudicator free from perceptions of political bias.

Opening up the system to political advertising could invite spurious claims and nuisance complaints that may cause disruption to the normal political process and an inappropriate drain on limited industry resources.

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Most complained about ads in 2014

Preliminary statistics show that around 5600 complaints about advertisements were received in 2014 by the Advertising Standards Bureau.

The most complained about ads from this year were:

1. 0307/14 Ashley Madison - Avid Life
TV ad featuring  married men singing ‘I'm looking for someone other than my wife’.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 481

2. 0277/14 My Plates
TV ad featuring a man repeatedly passing wind in a car.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 250

3. 0178/14 Menulog
TV ad featuring a Da Vinci character painting the last supper.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 228

4. 0276/14 My Plates
TV ad featuring a man picking his nose and wiping it on a car door.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 206

5. 0069/14 Johnson & Johnson Pacific Pty Ltd
TV ad highlighting embarrassing menstrual experiences.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 185

6. 0201/14 Ultra Tune Australia
TV ad featuring two women wearing rubber visiting a tyre store.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 181

7. 0281/14 My Plates
TV ad featuring a man picking his nose and wiping it on a car door, his finger is pixelated.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 180

8. 0438/14 Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses
Billboard pictures a horse lying on its side and the words ‘Is the party really worth it?’
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 152

9. 0087/14 Johnson & Johnson Pacific Pty Ltd
TV ad highlighting different embarrassing menstrual experiences.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 146

10. 0014/14 Meat and Livestock Australia
TV ad featuring Sam Kekovich promoting the consumption of lamb on Australia Day.
Dismissed. Number of complaints: 80

For more information, and a look at the most complained about ads of all time take a look at the media release.

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Understanding digital and social media marketing


One of the major consequences of advertising in the digital and social media sphere is the elevation of the issue surrounding the blurring of advertising and content.

The Australian Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) was one of the first advertising self-regulation complaints handling bodies in the world to clearly determine that social media, and consumer comment on a brand/product website, falls within the scope of the self-regulatory systems and needs to comply with relevant standards.

The approach taken by ASB was supported by the Australian industry, with The Communications Council in Australia compiling a Social Media Code of Conduct to help businesses to determine their responsibilities. The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) has released a Best Practice Guideline for Responsible Marketing Communications in the Digital Space.  The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has since released a guideline for Best Practice for User Comment Moderation. Similarly, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission quickly confirmed their view that advertisers can be held responsible for consumer comments made on advertiser social media pages which are false or likely to mislead or deceive consumers after a 2011 court case found that a company accepted responsibility for fan posts and testimonials on its social media pages when it knew about them and decided not to remove them.

The ASB's view of social media being part of advertising and marketing communications is now shared with international approaches particularly the approach of our counterparts in Ireland and the UK and New Zealand, and has driven the development of a consistent position across European self-regulation organisations.

Is it an ad, or is it not?

Whether material is advertising or marketing communications matters because such material must comply with content codes. These Codes, primarily the AANA Code of Ethics (go to for full details), ensure that advertising and marketing content meets community standards.

In determining what on social media is advertising and what is not, the ASB must consider the definition set out in the AANA Codes. Under the Codes advertising and/or marketing communication means “any material which is published or broadcast using any Medium or any activity which is undertaken by, or on behalf of an advertiser or marketer, and over which the advertiser or marketer has a reasonable degree of control, and that draws the attention of the public in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly a product, service, person, organisation or line of conduct.”

Sponsored posts on media such as Facebook are clearly identifiable as advertising or marketing communications and are dealt with as such.

The more tricky area is advertiser own Facebook or Instagram pages. Is everything on such a page to be within the ASB’s jurisdiction? The reality is that, similar to an advertiser’s own website, some material on an advertiser’s own Facebook or Instagram page will be considered advertising or marketing content and other material will not. Just because the page itself is branded, doesn’t mean every post is considered marketing.

What is advertising, and what is not?

Branded material on social media sites, such as games featuring the product, recipes using the product, suggestions to buy the product, or competitions related to a product will all be considered as advertising or marketing communications and subject to the requirements of the AANA Code of Ethics. Similarly, advertiser posts on a Facebook page which feature the product or encourage purchase or consumption of the product or service will also be considered advertising or marketing communications, as will user generated comments appearing on the page in relation to such posts.

User generated content in response to a post by an advertiser  is content which the advertiser has a ‘reasonable degree of control over’ and must also comply with relevant standards. In 2012, the Advertising Standards Board (the Board) upheld complaints against a post on an advertiser’s Facebook page, due to comments made on the page by users posted in reply to questions posed by the advertiser. In their determination the Board noted that:

“Social media is an advertising platform that requires monitoring to ensure that offensive material is removed within a reasonable timeframe and that content within a Facebook page should, like all other advertisement and marketing communication, be assessed with the Code in mind.”

However, some material on a Facebook page or Instagram will not be considered advertising or marketing communications and complaints about such material may be considered by bodies other than the Advertising Standards Board. To date, there are two main categories of material:

  • complaints about the content of news reports, articles, editorials, letters, cartoons, images and other material published by Australian Press Council members will be referred to that Council for consideration.
  • material such as references to news reports, articles, editorials, letters, cartoons, images and other material by other advertisers, which is not calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly a product, service, person, organisation or line of conduct is not within the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Board. These will be considered content and complaints will be referred, as far as possible, to appropriate regulatory agencies.

The determinations made by the Board, in relation to the use of social media, show that advertisers using social media to promote goods or services also need to consider carefully and follow the codes and initiatives which underpin the advertising self-regulation system.

Compliance with Code breach determinations

A successful self-regulation system relies on the good will of advertisers. Responsible advertisers will ensure they are aware of the standards for advertising and, in the event that they have complaints about one of their advertisements upheld, will ensure that the affected advertising or marketing material is removed promptly. The advertising self-regulation system has a compliance rate of almost 100% (98.7% in 2013). The social media environment is no different to traditional media in terms of compliance expectations. Facebook too is supportive of ensuring advertising and marketing content meets relevant Australian standards and has taken the approach that advertising on Facebook pages needs to comply with determinations made by the Board.

In the very few cases where an advertiser does not comply voluntarily with a determination by the Board, Facebook has agreed it will remove an ad or marketing communication in line with its advertising guidelines: "Advertisers are responsible for ensuring that their ads comply with all applicable laws, statutes, and regulations.”

Facebook will review all complaints that the ASB refers to them in relation to content that is posted on Facebook for compliance with their policies. If there is content that is posted on a Facebook Page that violates the AANA Code of Ethics, or another relevant code and that is the subject of an Upheld complaint to the ASB, which is not removed by the advertiser, then Facebook will take steps to ensure that it is not available out of respect for the applicable Australian regulations.

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Long-serving Board members farewelled


Board retirees 2014

Long-serving Board members Barbara David, Khoa Do, Sibylla Budd and John Lee (pictured) were farewelled from the Advertising Standards Board at a recent function. Also retiring from the Board were Jo Tiddy, Nathan Hindmarsh and Jaime Phillips.

Khoa, Sibylla, John and Jo had served on the Board since August 2006, while Barbara was appointed in August 2008 and Nathan and Jaime in August 2011.

All retiring Board members were thanked for their dedication to the Board and their service to the community in ensuring advertising standards in Australia remained world class.

The retirees made way for new appointees to the Board. Recently inducted to the Board were Sue Boyce, Paul Doorn, Jay Laga’aia, Gina Lee, William McInnes, Andrew Robinson and Sue Smethurst.

Click to view profiles of all the current Board members.

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Cooperation leads to APEC endorsement


The APEC advertising standards forum and mentoring workshop held as part of the APEC’s SOM3 meeting in Beijing on 8-9 August was successful in bringing participants from 16 APEC Economies together to discuss advertising standards and regulations. The experience and enthusiasm of all participants helped to make the event a success.

The APEC Action Agenda on advertising standards was approved by both the Committee for Trade and Investment (CTI) and the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM). At SOM the China’s Director General of Trade specifically thanked all economies and private partners for their contribution to this work and the SOM Chair, Vice Minister Li Baodong, also specifically stated this work as being endorsed in his summary of the SOM morning session.

Group Photo

A picture of attendees and speakers.

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Most complained about in far

Statistics for the most complained about ads so far in 2014 are in stark contrast to last year. In 2013 there were just 65 complaints about the year’s most complained about ad. Already in 2014 there have been five cases which have received well over 65 complaints.

The two most complained about ads this year were from the same campaign promoting sanitary products, with over 300 complaints between the two ads. In 2012 the most complained about ad, with 149 complaints, was from the same advertiser about a similar product.

All but one of the 10 most complained about ads were seen on TV, with only one internet ad making the list. This ad was part of the same campaign as one of the TV ads.

The Advertising Standards Board has dismissed complaints about each of the 10 most complained about advertisements.

Most complained about ads January to June 2014

  1. 0069/14 Johnson & Johnson Pacific Pty Ltd
    TV ad highlighting embarrassing menstrual experiences.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 185
  2. 0087/14 Johnson & Johnson Pacific Pty Ltd
    TV ad highlighting different embarrassing menstrual experiences.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 146
  3. 0178/14 Menulog
    TV ad depicting a series of Australian characters within a scene reminiscent of the historical work of art created by Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last supper.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 117
  4. 0014/14 Meat and Livestock Australia
    TV ad featuring Sam Kekovich promoting the consumption of lamb on Australia Day.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 80
  5. 0068/14 Sportingbet Australia Pty Ltd
    TV ad showing Shane Warne facing his fear of spiders as part of a $5000 bet.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 59
  6. 0052/14 Beiersdorf Aust Ltd
    TV ad for deodorant depicting a stressed man lying on the couch while his wife is full of energy.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 52
  7. 0013/14 Meat and Livestock Australia
    Internet ad featuring Sam Kekovich promoting the consumption of lamb on Australia Day.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 41
  8. 0146/14 St Johns Ambulance WA
    TV ad showing a mother unable to save her drowning child.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 34
  9. 0135/14 Beiersdorf Aust Ltd
    TV ad showing a woman in the shower using body wash.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints: 22
  10. 0201/14 Ultra Tune Australia
    TV ad showing two women wearing rubber outfits visiting a workshop to look at tyres.
    Dismissed. Number of complaints 20
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Stats - Ad Standards Review of Ops 2013


You can find a range of interesting stats in the Advertising Standards Bureau – Review of Operations 2013.

Stats cover the 2,773 complaints received by Ad Standards in 2013, a decrease from the 3,640 in 2012. This is the lowest amount since 2007 (2,602 complaints). From the complaints received in 2013 the Board considered 409 advertisements with an additional 17 withdrawn by advertisers before Board consideration. Of the 409 advertisements considered, 61 of these advertisements were found to be in breach of the Code.

Last year was Ad Standards’ 15th year of operation. During the 15 years Ad Standards has received a total of 43,570 complaints. The number of cases dealt with in that time totals 7,042. Of all cases considered since operations began, the Board has found just over seven per cent to breach the Code.

2013 stats new

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Best practice on an international stage

Representatives from industry, Government and the community joined with international speakers to discuss the different methods used in countries around the world in achieving best practice in advertising self-regulation.

The discussions focussed on the experiences in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Hungary. Guest speakers were Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Hilary Souter, Chief Executive of New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority and Ildeko Fazekas, Secretary General of ӦRT, the Hungarian self-regulatory organisation.

The luncheon covered information about the benefits of advertising self-regulation, developments and issues facing advertising standards and controls in different parts of the world.  In Australia alcohol advertising, advertising to children, outdoor advertising and online advertising are all issues facing advertisers and self-regulation bodies. These are also issues that face advertisers in the Asia Pacific region and around the world.

Highlighted by all speakers was the need to share information and experiences to assist other countries in continuing to meet best practice principles, to improve existing systems, better address emerging policy issues, and to assist countries in establishing effective advertising self-regulation systems.

The work of European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) in developing and coordinating  advertising best practice recommendations which self-regulatory member organisations are encouraged to implement was also discussed. EASA is the key organisation regarding advertising self-regulation in Europe and beyond. It promotes high ethical standards in commercial communications through effective self-regulation and provides ongoing support to member self-regulation organisations. In 2006 ASB joined the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) to ensure access to an appropriate best practice model for advertising complaint resolution.

The luncheon was held during the World Federation of Advertising’s Global Marketer Week being held in Sydney this week.

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New Ad Standards campaign: People like you


Ad Standards has begun a new public awareness campaign centred around a TV advertisement which aims to show that Ad Standards Board (Board) members are People just like you.

The ad, being broadcast on TV and online, highlights that all ad complaints will be given a fair hearing by the Board, which is made up of diverse community members.

The campaign hopes to raise awareness of the role of Ad Standards and the Board, as well as highlighting to people how easy it is to lodge a complaint online.

Take a look at the ad:

Several members of the Board feature in the ad. We thank Board members Graham, Karen, Maria, Paula and Peter for their involvement in our campaign.

Ad Standards also appreciates the assistance provided by our Bureau Board Chairman, Ian Alwill, and Bureau Board Director John McLaren, as well as the creative input of Rob Palmer (The Palmer Agency) and Bill Mulham (Flicks Australia). The support of television networks is also helping to spread the message around Australia that Board members are people from the community, not advertisers or industry representatives.

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Responding to community concern over gambling advertising

The ASB has been asked to take part in a panel on gambling advertising as part of the eGaming Review (EGR) Australia Power Summit 2014. The ASB appreciates the opportunity to speak to Australian online betting executives about responsible advertising, and the Codes and regulations around advertising in Australia.

Gambling operators, like any other industry, have the right to advertise their products. However just like every other industry their advertisements cannot breach the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics. In particular they cannot advertise in a way that breaches section 2.6 of the Code which states that Advertising and marketing communications shall not depict material contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.

This is the part of the code that the Advertising Standards Board will look at when the ASB receives complaints about gambling advertisements. While the Board cannot look at the placement or frequency of advertisements, they can look at the messages shown in the advertisement. The Board has found that any advertisement that encourages excessive gambling, or that may make gambling attractive to children, will be found to breach the Code on the grounds that it goes against the prevailing community standards around what constitutes safe gambling.

The ASB will look at any gambling advertisement that receives a complaint, including online, in an app or on social media. So it is important for advertisers to consider whether their advertisement breaches the Code in all forms of advertising. In addition to the Code, additional restrictions on gambling advertising exist for television and radio broadcast.

In recent years there has been growing community concern over gambling advertising, particularly during sporting events. In response to this concern, and to deflect calls for direct Government regulation, the broadcasting industry reacted with the FreeTV, The Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association and Commercial Radio Australia Codes of Practice have imposed limitations on discussing gambling odds during commentary. Under these codes gambling advertisements must also be clearly identified as such.

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