Ad Watchdog in Australia a dismal failure

It's no secret that the advertising industry's preferred model of regulation, self-regulation, has failed. Despite various government inquiries exploring the many flaws in the current system, as well as condemnation from child health professionals and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) the advertising industry has been given free reign to regulate themselves to the detriment of the community, in particular, children.

In 2012, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton called for a new government inquiry into the sexualisation of children in advertising to protect the health and development of children. He said,

“These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it.

“There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.

“The current self regulatory approach through the Advertising Standards Bureau is failing to protect children from sexualised advertising."

We encourage supporters to utilise the complaints process when they come across hyper-sexualised advertising they suspect could be in breach of advertising codes. Many feel understandably frustrated as the ASB continues to dismiss valid complaints while simultaneously claiming that self-regulation is working well and this is evidenced by the fact they rarely uphold complaints! We've highlighted some of our previous complaints below to illustrate the great lengths the ASB goes to in order to excuse sexualising and adult sexual content in advertising.

Love and Rockets, Billboard

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The photo of this billboard was taken from a Brisbane boy's school. The ASB noted that it is not illegal for the sex industry to advertise outside schools and ruled that this billboard advertising a strip club to children treated sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience (school children) as it did "not show include explicit nudity".

Schick for Men, Social Media video 

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In response to Schick's commercial featuring a woman stripping off her clothes to sell men's razors, the ASB said,"The Board noted that although the woman does remove her clothing...her breasts are covered by text on the screen. It was not sexualised."

Supre Jeggings, TV commercial

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The clothing store popular with teens and pre-teens released this ad to promote their new range of Jeggings. The ASB responded, "The woman was not posed in a sexualised manner."

Lee Jeans, Billboard

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It may come as no surprise that this image is part of a larger collection of photos by photographer and accused rapist Terry Richardson, with a reputation for porn-themed photo shoots and for sexually exploiting young models. The ASB said,  

“There is no nudity [and] the woman’s pose was not inappropriately sexual.”

“Consumption of this style of lollipop is now common amongst people over 18.”

River 'Get Excited', Catalogue

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An image of a woman who appeared to be nude aside from thigh high stockings, with her legs apart and her arms covering her private parts was "not overtly sexualised", said the ASB.

The Firm Gentleman's Club, Poster

We couldn't locate a photo of the original poster, however it is the same (life-size) image as shown here on their website.

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This life size poster was located on a busy Adelaide street. The ASB ruled this outdoor advertising was not in breach of industry codes and standards because "the image is relevant to the advertised product". The product was women, for men's sexual use. 

Target Fifty Shades Lingerie, Billboard

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The ASB said the billboard of a faceless woman reclining in lingerie complete with suspenders "[did] not present strongly sexualised imagery and is not inappropriate for viewing by a broad audience including children.”

Xotica Strip Club, Billboard

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A supporter shared her frustration on encountering this large billboard while taking her children aged four through seven out for lunch. The ASB dismissed complaints about the billboard because the ad "[did] not show any private parts of the woman.” They went on to say:

“In the context of an advertisement for an adult venue the images of the women are not exploitative and degrading.”

“The building which is located in an area which contains a high proportion of adult venues…based on the location of the building, the audience likely to be frequenting the area are generally customers of the venues.”

UltraTune, TV Commercial

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UltraTune used two dominatrix women brandishing whips and feigning arousal at the sight of tyres and car accessories for the enjoyment of a male staff member to promote their car service centres and accessories. The ASB dismissed complaints, ruling the dominatrix women were "relevant to the product" being advertised.

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Perth coffee brand "Fresh One" unleashed a series of porn inspired advertisements on its Facebook page earlier this year. The board upheld complaints against some of the ads, but dismissed complaints against others. 

The Ad Standards Board dismissed complaints against this ad featuring a woman pouring milk over her chest.

“The Board noted that the woman is voluntarily pouring the milk over herself."

"...the image is not exploitative or degrading, with references to ‘bathing in milk’ often associated with luxury (Cleopatra for example) rather than any demeaning activity.”

This is what industry self-regulation looks like.

The argument that adult, sex industry advertising can be justified in public spaces raises several questions. Do children and young people no longer have a right to be in a public space? Is it permissible for billboards to include sexually explicit content if they are promoting the purchase of women for sex? Do the rights of the sex industry to market itself to the masses take precedence over children's rights to healthy development?

The Advertising Standards Bureau is a joke. As best-selling author and psychologist Steve Biddulph said, "The UK has an advertising watchdog that actually takes action. Australia has a watch tortoise that might have died."

It takes a village to raise a child. We often hear from parents who feel overwhelmed and powerless to raise healthy children when the wider culture is undermining their attempts at every turn. Parents need the government and regulatory bodies to do their part in providing a safe environment for children.

Objectification of women should be recognised as discriminatory practice

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance recommended that “community concerns about the sexualisation of society, and the objectification of women” be taken into account as a key principle in every classification decision (Recommendation 2). This reflects the core message of Collective Shout that women must never be depicted as mere objects for the sexual satisfaction of men.

The House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising tabled July 4, 2011, recommended a tightening up of the outdoor advertising industry through a more rigorous system of self-regulation. A key recommendation was that objectification of women be seen as a form of discriminatory practiceIf self-regulatory system was found lacking, the committee recommended AG’s impose self-funded co-regulatory system on advertising with government input.

We were particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which related to issues of objectification of women as forms of discriminatory practice. It is remarkable that in the ASB’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women is not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.

Clearly the self-regulatory system has been found lacking!

Industry has been warned, has had its chance to voluntarily self-regulate, and has conspicuously failed to act at the level required. The evidence of the past years of minimal response by industry shows that the market culture around this issue will not shift without stronger government initiative.


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  • commented 2015-06-04 17:03:45 +1000
    Ultimately children copy grown up behaviour. If they see women treated as objects for sex rather than humans, then thats the way they will treat females which is why girls are hated by themselves, each other and boys too as well as adults. There is a hightolerance of hate crime against girls whether it be being treated as an object for sex by male family members or teachers or boys at large.
  • commented 2014-12-16 18:31:40 +1100
    I’ve dealt with the ASB in the past. They are absolutely incompetent to say the least. I’m certain there are misogynists on their board!
  • commented 2014-11-14 19:37:48 +1100
    Advertising times for adult shows during kids programming times should also be looked at. Sexualised ads are always on during kids shows. Another area needs alot of attention also, the music industry. The music playing on tv on the weekend morning shows show alot of beasteality, drinking, drugs, fetishes, bdsm, orgies the list is endless. Then of course you have the fashion industry dressing children like prostitutes.
  • commented 2014-10-21 18:09:05 +1100
    This is disgraceful! The Australian government should be taking action by now. It is also their responsibility to protect women’s rights.
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