The law reflects prevailing community standards on health and safety

Advertisers must ensure that there is no ambiguity when showing behaviour that would breach an Australian law.

Section 2.6 of the AANA Code of Ethics requires that ‘Advertising or Marketing Communication shall not depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety’.

The issue of what is a 'community standard on health and safety' has long been an issue for consideration by the Ad Standards Community Panel. The Code of Ethics does not directly state that behaviour that is illegal would be a breach of Section 2.6 of the Code. However it has been interpreted that ‘prevailing community standards on health and safety’ includes obeying the law.

The Community Panel has consistently found that ads which breach safety laws will usually breach Section 2.6 of the Code. Examples of depicting breaches of a law include advertisements depicting people riding bikes without helmets or train surfing

However ads that feature unrealistic or exaggerated behaviour may not breach the Code if there is an element of fantasy to indicate that the breach of a law is not condoned or encouraged. This includes a character in a series of unrealistic insurance ads purposely performing risky behaviour.

A grey area can be where there is behaviour that is advised against depicted in an advertisement where the Community Panel might consider that although not recommended behaviour, the behaviour depicted is not contrary to prevailing community standards.

A recent decision by the Ad Standards Independent Reviewer has given strength to the Community Panel’s view regarding depictions in an advertisement that are a breach of a law. Advertisers are reminded therefore that advertisements should not depict activity which would breach a law in any Australian state or territory.

In the case, the television ad – an awareness campaign for a charity – depicted a mother stopping her car near a school crossing and farewelling her smiling daughter while happy children cross the street.  The issue of concern raised was that the advertisement depicted the mother breaking NSW Road Rules by stopping her vehicle next to a school crossing.

Acknowledging that road safety is a significant community concern, the Community Panel, in its initial decision, dismissed the complaint noting that the depiction of where the woman parked was brief and not the focus of the advertisement.

However, after a request for Independent Review, the Independent Reviewer stated “…it is virtually impossible to imagine what could better constitute a reflection of prevailing community standards on this issue of road safety, than the Road Rules … made by a government which has been elected by the community.”

The Reviewer went on to indicate that the Community Panel should find that a depiction of a breach of a health or safety law in an advertisement is a breach of Section 2.6 of the Code, unless “the Community Panel can offer conclusive evidence for the view that there is not a breach of prevailing community standards.”

The Community Panel noted the Independent Reviewer’s assessment and upheld the complaint after reviewing the advertisement and further considering the relevant NSW Road Rules. The advertiser then removed the ad from broadcast.

All Ad Standards Community Panel determinations are published online at www.adstandards.com.au

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1 comment

  • Vacie Alexander - 20 September 2018 - 9:55am

    I am absolutely appalled by the Berlie exercise bra advertisement appearing on Channel 7. If that's the best Berlie can do to get their message across about their deep concern for women not wearing appropriate bras when exercising, then they should dispose of that PR team. I am no prude but find the sight of women's breasts being kicked and stomped on to be disgusting, denigrating and confronting, especially to those women who have suffered with breast cancer resulting in radical mastectomy. I don't believe for a moment that the 'brain' behind this despicable ad is so concerned about women's health that it has to delve so deep into the sludge to get the message across. The ad should be discontinued immediately. I won't be buying Berlie products again.

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