The advertising complaints process
Making a complaint
Ad Standards accepts complaints about advertising from consumers. All complaints must be submitted in writing. The majority of complaints are submitted through the online complaints form although complaints can be received via post and facsimile.
A single written complaint is sufficient to initiate a formal complaint. An anonymous complaint is not sufficient to initiate a formal complaint, but it can be included as part of a complaint that has already been raised or is subsequently raised. To facilitate this, anonymous complaints are kept on file.
- A complainant must provide details of the advertisement that sufficiently identifies the particular advertisement, as well as what was found to be offensive about the advertisement.
- A mailing address is also necessary in order to contact the complainant about the progress of their complaint.
- Complaints about different advertisements should be submitted separately for expedient processing.
Assessment of complaints
All complaints received are promptly assessed for their appropriateness before submission to the Ad Standards Community Panel for determination. As the Community Panel secretariat, Ad Standards replies to all complainants informing them of the status of their complaint.
If the information provided in the complaint is insufficient (in particular, if it fails to adequately identify the advertiser or marketer, product or nature of complaint) then more information is sought from the complainant.
- A new complaint - If the complaint raises an issue under Codes or Initiatives administered by Ad Standards about an advertisement that has not been previously considered by the Community Panel, the advertisement is put on the agenda for the next Panel meeting.
- Already considered - If the complaint is about an advertisement that has already been considered by the Community Panel.
- Not proceeding complaint - Complaints will not proceed if the Community Panel does not have jurisdiction to consider the issue.
- Consistently dismissed - Consistently dismissed complaints are complaints which raise issues under the Code of Ethics but are considered not suitable for submission to the Community Panel on the basis that the Panel has consistently considered such complaints to be not in breach of the Codes. This decision is made by the Chair of the Community Panel, a position that rotates monthly between members.
Consistently dismissed issues include unlikely interpretation; matter previously considered; not of concern to broad community; incorrect about content; dislike product name; ads in other languages; images of food; stereotypical depictions or consistently dismissed issues or language.
Notification of complaints
Once a complaint has been accepted by Ad Standards, the complainant is informed via email or post that his or her complaint will be considered by the Community Panel.
The advertiser is then notified about the complaint. The advertiser is provided with a copy of the complaint and is requested to provide a written response and copies of the relevant advertising or marketing communication within sufficient time to allow the complaint to be dealt with at the next meeting of the Community Panel.
If an advertiser/marketer fails to provide a response to the complaint within the specified period or any extension of it, the Community Panel may consider the complaint and the advertising or marketing communication in question without the advertiser/marketer response.
Community Panel meeting
The Community Panel usually meets twice a month to consider complaints. The Panel will also meet between meetings, usually by teleconference, if Ad Standards considers that a matter should be considered as a matter of urgency.
Community Panel members must disclose any personal interest in a matter that is the subject of a complaint. The member concerned must withdraw from contributing to the deliberation, determination or case report approval in relation to those cases.
If a Panel member’s duties to another board or organisation require that they breach their duty of loyalty or confidentiality to the Panel for a period of time, then the member must disclose this position.
A general conflict with the Community Panel would require that the member withdraw from their duties to the Panel during the period that the conflict continues.
The Community Panel reaches its decision by way of simple majority. In the event of a tied vote, the Chair has a casting vote. The position of Chair is rotated on a monthly basis.
In relation to individual complaints, Community Panel members will consider:
- the complaint(s) received
- all relevant advertising/marketing communications submitted by the advertiser/marketer
- the advertiser/marketer’s response (if any)
- all relevant provisions of the Codes and Initiatives, and
- any other relevant supporting materials or other representations or submissions.
The Community Panel is not limited, in its considerations, to issues raised by the complainant and will assess an advertisement against all relevant Code provisions.
When the Community Panel considers a case it can make one of two determinations:
A complaint is dismissed if the Community Panel determines there is no breach of a Code or Initiative. When a complaint is dismissed by the Community Panel complainants and advertisers are usually advised of the determination within 10 business days of the Panel meeting and all case reports are made publicly available.
A complaint is upheld if the Community Panel determines there is a breach of a Code or Initiative. When a complaint is upheld the advertiser is notified of the decision and provided with a draft case report. The advertiser is requested to remove or amend the offending advertisement as soon as possible.
Notification of the outcome
Advertisers are advised within 48 hours of the Community Panel’s decision when a complaint is dismissed. During that time a draft case report is prepared by Ad Standards and submitted to the Panel Chair for approval to confirm that all discussion points are referenced. Usually, within 10 business days of the Community Panel’s decision, complainants are advised of the decision and all case reports are made publicly available.
When a complaint is upheld the advertiser is notified of the decision and provided with a draft case report. The advertiser then has 5 days to respond to the Community Panel's decision and confirm that the advertisement has been or is being removed. The Community Panel’s decision and the final case report, incorporating the advertiser’s response to determination, is provided to complainants and the public within 8-10 days of the Panel’s decision.
If an advertising or marketing communication is found to breach a provision of a Code or Initiative and the advertiser/marketer does not modify or discontinue the advertising or marketing communication within the allowed time frame, Ad Standards will:
- include the advertiser/marketer’s failure to respond in the case report
- forward the case report to media proprietors
- post the case report on Ad Standards' website, and
- if appropriate, Ad Standards can refer the case report to the appropriate government agency or industry body.
An independent review process is available to the advertiser and original complainants. Requests for review must be made within 10 business days of the date of the final notification of the Community Panel’s determination.
There are costs involved for lodging a request for review, and review requests must meet certain grounds for review.
If the review request is accepted following investigation the Independent Reviewer will make a recommendation to the Community Panel, stating whether the Panel’s original determination should be reviewed or confirmed.