Ad Standards Flaws Exposed

Last month Perth mum of four Lyn Swanson Kennedy paid for an independent review into an Ad Standards determination after the Community Panel gave the green light to a huge OnlyFans billboard at a busy intersection. The billboard created a stir of controversy with over 6000 people signing a petition for the land owner to have it removed. 

The independent reviewer took on the case to review all the evidence and make a decision over whether the complaints about the ad should be revisited. During the review process the independent reviewer found a number if significant flaws with the way the Ad Standards Community Panel had originally handled the case. 


I recommend that the Community Panel review its determination in this matter, on
two grounds:

  • there was a substantial flaw in the Panel’s determination in that it did not
    directly consider whether the advertisement used sexual appeal in a manner
    that was exploitative or degrading of a group of people (women) in breach of
    standard 2.2
  • there is additional relevant evidence that was not considered by the Panel in
    reaching its determination that the advertisement treated sexuality and partial
    nudity in a way that was sensitive to an audience that included children, as
    required by standard 2.4.

The independent reviewer is limited to recommending that the Community Panel review it's original determination. The reviewer cannot substitute a new ruling.

There are three grounds of contention that required
consideration in this review:

  • Standard 2.2: the Panel’s view that the advertisement depicted sexuality in a
    manner that was not exploitative or degrading of a group of people.
  • Standard 2.4: the Panel’s view that the advertisement did treat sexuality and
    partial nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
  • The Panel’s failure to consider Standards 2.3, 2.5 and 2.6.

Was the advertisement degrading or exploitative of a group of people?

Reviewer's response: In my view this element was not directly considered by the Panel. Standard 2.2 states that an advertisement should not employ sexual appeal in a manner that is exploitative ‘of any individual or group of people’. The Panel’s reasoning deals
only with how the advertiser has chosen to portray herself, and does not deal
additionally with how women in general are portrayed by an advertisement of this
kind. I regard this as a substantial flaw in the Panel’s reasoning, as this was the
primary thrust of many of the complaints.

This is clear from the way the
complaints were summarised in the determination and subsequent submissions:

[the advertisement] “encourages a particular view of the female body and

“I don’t want my children thinking that’s how to make money when
you grow up”;

“that ideology of how a woman must look and act”;

“flaunting their sexuality to gain attention and money”;

“that it’s acceptable to sexually
objectify women”;

“as a woman it makes me feel less safe in society”;

“its socially acceptable to view women as sexual objects”;

“that pose is not any normal pose”;

“young women ... shouldn’t need to feel pressured to dress,
look or behave like a woman in a porn movie”;

“there is a focus on her breasts [and] what is being sold ... is degrading and exploitative of all women”;

“the advertisement communicates that women are able to be bought for sexual
and aggressive and savage sexual pleasure”.

Reviewers response: That theme in the complaints is, in my view, relevant to whether the
advertisement used sexual appeal in a manner that was exploitative of women.
The Panel should explicitly consider that theme, but does not appear to have done

Did the advertisement treat sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience?

Panel's comments: Sexuality and partial nudity were depicted in the advertisement, but not in breach
of the standard requiring that this be done ‘with sensitivity to the relevant

Reviewers response: It was this element of the Panel’s reasoning that attracted the most virulent criticism in the complaints.

Among the points made by the Panel were that the advertisement itself did not
include adult content; many people including children would not know what
OnlyFans is; the OnlyFans platform uses age-gating to hide explicit images; and the
woman’s position in the advertisement was not itself suggestive of a sexual

There were essentially two lines of criticism of this reasoning. One was that the
Panel was wrong as regards the ease with which a person (including a child) could
access the OnlyFans website using the QR Code and be met with explicit and
sexualised references without having to access hidden content. The other was that
the Panel had failed to consider all elements of the advertisement collectively –
namely, that the obvious purpose of the advertisement and the way the woman
was clothed and poised was to promote access to a platform that was likely to be
sexual or pornographic in nature. Consequently, the complainants argued, the
advertisement did not deal with sexuality and partial nudity in a way that was sensitive to an audience that included children, including children attending a
school within a kilometre distance and at local recreational venues.

The Panel’s reasoning is open to criticism, but not necessarily on the basis that it is
substantially flawed by being clearly in error or against the weight of the evidence.
However, I think it can be said that the Panel has not fully or properly considered
the possible reaction of children to the advertisement or to the purpose of their
access to the OnlyFans website. These matters were convincingly argued in the
responses to the Panel’s determination. The form in which the arguments were
put constitute relevant evidence that in my view should be considered by the
Panel in a reconsideration of its determination.

In addition, as one of the requests for review notes, the Practice Note to the Code
states that prevailing community standards are relevant when applying the Code.
The submission referred to several government publications urging that children
should be protected from harmful sexualised advertising. The submission also
claimed that the advertisement had generated heated commentary in WA across
many platforms – talkback radio, newspaper articles, TV news, Facebook posts, a petition and by parliamentarians. While there are clear practical
difficulties in expecting the Panel to access that additional evidence, there is a firm
basis for concluding that the submissions in response to the Panel’s determination
present a new and stronger perspective on community feeling that should be
considered as fresh and relevant evidence in a Panel reconsideration.

The advertiser has indicated she plans to put more billboards up despite a record number of community complaints. 

It cost Lyn $110 to request the independent review. If this review found flaws in the Community Panel's process how many other determinations might also be flawed? Can we trust that when the Community Panels meets to review complaints they are considering all aspects of the code? 

This is just another reason that self regulation is not an adequate way to manage the advertising industry. We previously wrote this piece "25 Reasons Why Ad Industry Self-Regulation is a Disaster" and it was hard to stop at 25. We could have kept going. 

Collective Shout has been calling for a complete overhaul of the system over a decade including through many government submissions.

2022 - Protect kids, penalise corporate offenders: Our submission to the AANA Children’s Advertising Code Review

2019 - Submission to AANA Code of Ethics Review

2013 - Submission to the Health and Community Services Committee Inquiry into Sexually Explicit Outdoor Advertising

2011 - Submission to the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising

It's high time the ad industry put the wellbeing of women and children before industry profits.

Click here to read the full Ad Standards Case Report

Add your comment

  • Coralie Alison
    published this page in News 2023-07-11 18:46:50 +1000

You can defend their right to childhood

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