Cracking the laughter code

It’s no secret that Aussie’s love a good joke, but when it comes to advertising there’s fine line between humour and offence. Navigating this balance requires some careful consideration to avoid upsetting your audience.

In 2021 we completed some research that that provides an insight into how Australians navigate what is acceptable and unacceptable advertising content. This research indicates where the line is on acceptable and unacceptable humour.    

So where is the line?

What people find amusing varies depending on a variety of factors including personal, as well as political, environmental and cultural.  

The research showed that… 

Acceptable humour (from most acceptable to least acceptable)Unacceptable humour (starting with the very least acceptable)
Light-hearted humour based on a person’s behaviour (like thrifty, very cautious, etc.) Humour that is sexualising male or female body parts 
Light-hearted humour based on a person’s traits (like self-control, optimistic, etc.) Humour where a majority is making fun of a minority (where the minority is seen to have little or no power) 
Humour about someone having an unfortunate situation (like a car breaking down) Light-hearted humour based on racial stereotypes 
Light-hearted humour based on a person’s job (like a white collar worker, janitor, etc.) Light-hearted humour based on a person’s religion 
Light-hearted humour based on age stereotypes Light-hearted humour based on ethnic stereotypes 
Humour where a minority is making fun of a majority (where no one is exploiting a position of power) Light-hearted humour based on sex or sexuality 
Light-hearted humour based on a person’s accent. Light-hearted humour based on gender stereotypes 
Light-hearted humour based on physical attributes (like a big nose, short, etc.) 
Humour at the expense of an animal (no harm caused to the animal). 

The bottom line is that Australians like light jokes that don’t cause hurt to anyone. As soon as humour starts to be discriminatory or vilifying, it crosses the line and is likely to breach the advertising rules.

Some recent cases that have crossed the line

  • A Hungry Jacks ad that made light of a car almost hitting a road worker. 
  • A Good Folk Brewing Co ad that made a racist reference.  
  • An ad for Leaf Chief that used a caricature of a person in a feather headdress smoking a pipe. 
  • An ad for Pinocchio’s Pizza that used an exaggerated black American accent to sell fried chicken. 
  • A Simply Helping ad that makes fun of an elderly person by using terms such as ‘wrinklies’ and ‘old’.

To find out more about current perceptions of advertising, take a look at our research report. 

If you’d like some advice about whether the humour in your ad would be considered acceptable and would comply with the advertising rules, we offer an advice service that provides expert guidance to help make sure your ad stays on the right track.   

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