Advertising standards body failing consumers

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

By Serge Sardo, CEO, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation

In a spectacular display of irony, the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has dismissed complaints against its own ad (‘ASB does double pike with twist as complaints against own ad dismissed’, AdNews 09/07/14), and in the process, highlighted why the advertising standards codes need to be reviewed.

It is at first perplexing to see the ASB board has made a determination on complaints against its own ad. Are they able to objectively review the case? Surely this special case should have been addressed by another body such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority?

But more importantly, this decision exposes a fundamental flaw in the voluntary advertising standards codes and calls into question the body put in place to protect community standards.

The voiceover in the ad encourages people to complain about ads they find offensive, violent or sexist. At the same time, sexist images of women flash across the screen, potentially breaching the very codes they are trying to enforce.

Among the complaints was that they sexualise women, and that it was shown at inappropriate times when children could be watching. Some felt the ad was racist, while others questioned the self regulated bias of the ASB.

In its response to the complaints, the ASB admits that ‘most complaints received by the Bureau do relate to sexualised images of women’.

It also admits the images in the ad are offensive, stating they ‘accurately reflect images which could cause offense if used in advertising material’.

And yet, the ASB determined ‘the majority of the ad’ was not sexist and therefore OK.

Best of all, in reviewing its own ad, the ASB considered other ads using similar images.

Unsurprisingly, other sexist ads that spring to mind include sports betting ads that glamourise and sexualise gambling by depicting scantily clad women, and promise power and sex.

We are bombarded by gambling advertising that is increasingly aggressive and sexual, particularly ads targeting young men.

Well known gambling ads like ‘Power to the punter’ and ‘Fire up’ are examples of irresponsible and misleading ads that received numerous complaints that were dismissed by the ASB.

Sexist content in gambling ads has reached boiling point, and the community demands to know why the codes put in place to protect us are allowing such provocative ads to continue.

While these codes allow sexist content to remain, we question the ASB’s understanding of sexism.

In their ad, the ASB board claim to be everyday people, but are they?

‘Every day people’ are clearly speaking up to question the code, the way it is implemented, and criticise the ASB for their inability to objectively review its own case, let alone other cases.

While the irony of the ASB’s decision to dismiss complaints against its own ad is certainly not lost, surely it is time to overhaul the system, starting with an independent review of the codes.

With new appointments to the ASB board being made by the board itself, it’s also time to review the way this industry funded, self appointed and self regulated board operates.

These advertising standards codes are supposed to promote consumer confidence but with this decision and others relating to gambling, the ASB has clearly failed. 

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