The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) this week released its updated Code of Ethics following a review. While we welcome some new elements in the Code, we have reservations about its overall effectiveness.
Collective Shout has criticised the self-regulatory advertising system for a decade and participated in the review. See our submission: Submission to AANA code of ethics review
We pointed out multiple flaws in the system, highlighting the ease with which companies flout the Code (for example repeat corporate offender Honey Birdette) and the lack of enforcement powers and fines or other penalties for non-compliance.
Two of the top 10 most complained about ads in 2020 were from companies we ran major campaigns against, including Ultra Tune and KFC. Despite the number of complaints, Ad Standards dismissed them.
We provided strong evidence from global studies demonstrating the harms of sexualised and objectified portrayals of women. AANA’s own research shows more Australians think advertising is becoming increasing sexually explicit and would support less sexualisation in advertising.
The updated Code – to take effect from February 2021 - includes restrictions on undue focus on the male or female anatomy, unless it is relevant to the product being advertised, the use of sexualised imagery or graphic violence where children are likely to view it, and avoiding harmful gender stereotyping.
We welcome the AANA’s intention to address harmful sex stereotypes, overtly sexual images, violent and menacing content, and body image concerns.
We also welcome the addition of the requirement that advertisers are to avoid causing harm.
AANA CEO John Broome said the Practice Note accompanying the Code would be strengthened to lessen the risk of certain advertising appearing.
However, we would like to know how ‘strengthening the Practice Note’ would ‘lessen the risk’ of sexualised advertising being seen by children, given the habitual abusers of advertising codes - such as Honey Birdette – have shown they have no interest in compliance and breach with impunity.
Right now, just in time for school holidays, Honey Birdette has full sized, orgy-themed window displays, featuring semi naked women. Some ads feature skeletons and demons which could be scary to children.
The exception regarding ‘relevant to the product being advertised’ can act to cancel out objections based on sexualised portrayals of women in public spaces. Harm is done regardless of how ‘relevant’ the images are to the product/service being sold.
Honey Birdette will be able to argue that its hypersexualised imagery is relevant to the product. This would suggest the Practice Note is not intended to have any application to or impact on companies like this.
Violent and menacing images are now prohibited in places where children are likely to form part of the audience: why not the same approach for sexually objectifying images?
The terms ‘human dignity’ and ‘harm’ are only in the objectives, so may have little bearing on how the Code’s provisions are applied.
We also advised that child/youth health and development experts be consulted in the formulation of the Code, given the unique vulnerabilities of children. We see no indication that research or child/youth experts were consulted.
Nor is there any suggestion that the Community Panel will include any such child/youth health and development experts amongst its members to inform its decision-making in future.
We cannot see how repeat offenders and companies who ignore the Code and the determinations of the former Ad Standards Community Panel will now be made to comply. Ultimately, we are still to see how the Code can be made effective.
September 25, 2020
Melinda Tankard Reist, Movement Director, Collective Shout @MelTankardReist
Melinda Liszewski, Campaigns Manager, Collective Shout @MelLiszewski
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