New children's ad code fails to protect kids from BDSM-themed sex shop ads

A new Children's Advertising Code has come into effect as of December following a review by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), but it is ultimately meaningless. 

According to the AANA, the new Code expands its coverage to any advertising that targets children.

The three criteria for determining whether an ad targets children are:

  • Nature and intended purpose of the product being promoted is principally or significantly appealing to Children;
  • Presentation of the advertisement content (e.g. theme, images, colours, wording, music and language used) is principally appealing to Children;
  • Expected average audience at the time or place the advertisement appears includes a significant proportion of Children.

The Community Panel weighs up these criteria and determines if they believe an ad is targeting children. The Code could potentially include a wider range of advertising material children are exposed to, and in addition to public spaces could cover online, gaming ads, influencer ads and more.

Kids still exposed to porn and BDSM-themed sex shop ads in shopping centres

While in theory, expanding the range of advertising content is a positive step forward, in reality, very little has changed.

Shortly after the new Code came into effect, one of our supporters reported three different Honey Birdette ads featuring porn-themed images of women with exposed genital regions, and others with near-naked women with chains and padlocks around their necks – all prominently displayed in shopping centres. But the Community Panel Chair refused to forward her complaints to the panel for review.


Children and Media Australia president and professor of Law Elizabeth Handsley pointed out the limitations of focusing on advertising “targeting” children, rather than advertising that is likely to draw their attention:

Children see, and are influenced by, a lot of advertising that doesn’t meet the definition, especially because the product also appeals to adults (for example chocolate, or ice cream)… the logic is that if enough adults are watching the same ad, children don’t need any special protection. 

We question what value there is in a children’s code that does not apply to all advertising children are exposed to. If Ad Standards can dismiss complaints – or refuse to even consider them – on the basis that the porn and fetish-themed sex shop ads kids are exposed to in public spaces are not “directed at children”, then the new code is meaningless.

We note also that to date, Honey Birdette has been found in violation of the advertising code of ethics for 69 different ads, and Ad Standards have dismissed complaints against plenty more. These numbers highlight the failure of advertising self-regulation, and the refusal of the Community Panel chair to even consider complaints means that the real number is not even being recorded. We question whether the refusal to review complaints against serial offender Honey Birdette is a deliberate attempt to conceal an obviously failed system.

We contributed a submission to the AANA review, in which we argued that the Children’s Code is failing to meet its stated objectives and recommended a review of the objectives to ensure that the guiding principle is the best interests of the child. 

See also

Ad Industry self-regulation has failed. Here's 28 reasons why

The sexist ads endorsed by Ad Standards

Protect kids, penalise corporate offenders: Our submission to the AANA Children’s Advertising Code Review

Ad Standards refuses to review Honey Birdette BDSM ads 'a few shops down from Santa's Workshop'

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  • Caitlin Roper
    published this page in News 2024-02-14 09:46:40 +1100

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