Information for advertisers
Receiving notification of complaint
On receipt of a complaint Ad Standards assesses whether issues raised in the complaint about an advertisement may relate to any sections of the Codes or Initiatives. This initial assessment is usually made without access to the actual advertisement.
Complaint(s) that are within scope, about an advertisement that has not already been considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel will be raised as a case. Each case raised has at least one complaint associated with it. Each case is related to only one medium. If an advertisement has been subject to complaints following broadcast on several mediums, e.g. free-to-air television, Pay TV and cinema, a separate case is created for each medium.
The process then involves Ad Standards case managers making contact with advertisers (by phone or email) to confirm that the advertisement is from that particular advertiser (as identified by the complainant) and confirm up-to-date details of the appropriate contact person.
Once all details are confirmed, a letter of notification will be sent to the advertiser’s contact person. This includes a copy of the complaints received and identifies the initial assessment of the potential Code or Initiative breaches. This letter seeks a response from advertisers and requests a copy of the actual advertisement.
If further complaints are received during this period Ad Standards will forward these to the advertiser.
Following receipt and verification of a response, a case manager will consider the response and assess if the information provided addresses all issues raised in the complaint and also check if the response addresses all elements within the Codes and any applicable Initiatives. If the information provided is deficient or some information is missing a case manager will contact the advertiser and make a request for the additional information.
When a case manager has assessed a response as complete, advertisers are notified by email confirming the receipt of all requested information.
Already considered complaints
Already considered - same media
If a complaint is made about an advertisement that is the same, or substantially similar, to one that has already been considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel and in the same medium as has already been considered, the complaint will be assessed as ‘already considered’.
Ad Standards will generally not reconsider an advertisement for a period of five (5) years after the initial determination. This is because community standards are unlikely to substantially change within this time period.
When a complaint is assessed as already considered the complainant will receive a letter informing them that the advertisement has previously been considered by the Community Panel and a copy of the previous case report.
Already considered – different media
There are however limited circumstances where the same advertisement may be considered again provided that it is shown in different media, and the nature of concern raised has a relevant audience test (that is, the complaint raises issues of sex, language, or distinguishable advertising).
‘Already considered’ advertisements shown in different media, but which do not raise a concern that has a ‘relevant audience test’, will be treated as a consistently dismissed case.
How to supply information to Ad Standards
Ad Standards has an online advertiser response form.
By using the online response form, advertisers can simultaneously provide their response and upload all relevant information required for consideration of the case.
Please do not submit the form multiple times. Lodging the form with all information once only, will assist Ad Standards to confirm that all relevant material has been submitted.
Please note that the contents of the advertiser response form cannot be saved. You will need to include all information requested in the form in one session. Please do not leave fields blank.
We urge you to insert the text of your response in the Advertisers Response field of the form as these words are uploaded by the system into the final Case Report.
To ensure that a response is linked to the correct case, the correct case number must be included when completing the online forms. The case report with the leading ‘0’ included must be in the format XXXX-YY (e.g. 0987-19).
What to include in advertiser response?
An advertiser’s response is a critical part of the information (and ultimately the case documents) considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel. It is essential that advertisers provide a detailed response that addresses all sections of the relevant Codes and Initiatives not just those sections which relate to the issues raised by the complaint.
During its deliberation of cases, the Community Panel considers each section of the Code of Ethics as well as sections of any other relevant Code or Initiative, making it essential for advertisers to provide a statement about why the advertisement complies with all sections of the relevant Codes or Initiatives. To ensure an advertiser is called on only once to respond to complaints about their advertisement, all sections are considered in one sitting to cover possible future issues raised by complainants. Ad Standards also requires other general information including:
- a description of the advertisement (in non-emotive/non-creative terms that would enable an independent person to identify the particular advertisement)
- a copy of the script (if relevant - but mandatory for radio ads)
- the CAD approval rating and CAD reference number if a TV ad
- a copy of digital media file(s) of the advertisement, and
- a copy of any other relevant information.
More specifically, if a complaint is about an advertisement for a food or beverage product, an advertiser will need to provide the following additional information.
- A statement about whether the advertisement is directed to children or not.
- A statement about whether the advertised product is a product primarily directed to children.
- Details of the media schedule and whether or not the advertisement is placed in programming that has a predominant child audience or is in a program directed to children.
- Substantiation of any nutritional claims made in the advertisement.
Information provided in response to complaints is included in case reports and these are made public. Advertisers should ensure they clearly identify any information which is confidential, commercial information that they do not wish to be made public.
In addition to the specific response to the complaint, Ad Standards also requires information to assist in the overall management and administration of the complaint administration component of the self-regulatory system.
- contact person for advertising complaints
- creative agency used for the advertisement
- media buyer.
How long do I have to respond?
The due date for responses has been established to ensure that a case can be considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel at its next meeting. Each case created is allocated to the next possible Community Panel meeting.
Ad Standards allows 7 calendar days for advertisers to respond to a complaint. If a response is not submitted the by the due date, or if an extension is not negotiated, Ad Standards' case management system will auto-generate a reminder email. Ad Standards can send the case to the Community Panel without a response from the advertiser.
Option to withdraw advertisement
Advertisers sometimes decide to withdraw advertisements due to complaint(s) before the case goes to the Ad Standards Community Panel. In these cases advertisers must notify Ad Standards in writing and indicate the timeframe in which the particular advertisement will be withdrawn.
In such a situation, Ad Standards also requires a written undertaking that the advertisement will not be re-broadcast or re-published at a later date. The advertisement will go forward to be considered by the Community Panel if an advertiser is unable to commit to not re-publishing or re-broadcasting the advertisement.
If an advertiser provides a binding confirmation of their intention to not broadcast, publish or display the advertisement, Ad Standards will usually notify complainants that an advertiser has chosen to withdraw the advertisement and the matter will not be considered by the Community Panel. Ad Standards reserves the right to continue with a case if it considers that the advertisement raises issues likely to be of concern to the community.
What happens after a decision is made?
If a case is upheld
Ad Standards will provide an ‘initial upheld’ letter informing the advertiser that the complaint against an advertisement has been upheld. The letter includes a copy of the draft case report detailing the reasons for the Community Panel’s determination to uphold the complaint.
For upheld cases, advertisers are requested to provide a written response, within 5 business days, of the action they will take to comply with the Community Panel's determination.
Advertisers can choose to modify the advertisement to remove offending element(s) that led to the Community Panel’s determination to uphold the complaint(s). During this time the advertisement must be removed.
The effect of a Community Panel determination to uphold a complaint against an advertisement is that the advertisement cannot be re-broadcast or re-published in the same format or medium.
If a case is dismissed
Ad Standards will provide an ‘initial dismissed’ letter informing advertisers that the complaint has been dismissed and that no further action in respect of the broadcast/publication of the advertisement is required.
In dismissed cases advertisers are encouraged to consider the issues raised by complainants in relation to current and future advertising campaigns.
How to support the system
Ad Standards' ability to achieve compliance across Federal, State and Territory jurisdictions, regardless of the size of the advertiser, is something that legislation and government administration is very unlikely to rival.
Advertisers, advertising agencies, media personnel and agencies, know that there is no government intervention in the self-regulation system and to maintain this position it is necessary to achieve high levels of compliance with Community Panel decisions.
In the past this knowledge has been sufficient to achieve absolute compliance. The aim is to maintain that record and ensure the system continues to work effectively without government intervention.
Ad Standards will continue to work with the advertising industry, associated national and international bodies and the community to maintain a healthy system of advertising self-regulation.
Regardless of an advertiser’s reaction to a Community Panel determination, in the vast majority of cases where Code breaches are found, advertisers quickly ensure that their advertisement is removed or modified.
Very few advertisers require more encouragement to comply. However, if necessary, Ad Standards has developed a range of enforcement actions to ensure compliance with Community Panel decisions.
Firstly, if a complaint indicates that an advertisement may breach government regulations or has broken the law, Ad Standards can refer the case report to an appropriate government agency or industry body that has the authority to withdraw the advertisement. This can be done without a case going to the Community Panel for consideration.
Other actions can include the following:
- An advertiser’s failure to respond will always be included in the final case report which is made public on Ad Standards' website. This is generally unwelcome publicity for the advertiser and for most advertisers such publicity is a threat to brand reputation and is to be avoided.
- In a similar fashion, an advertiser’s failure to respond can feature in information released to the media which follows the relevant Community Panel meeting, and Ad Standards' Independent Director for Complaints Handling will respond to all media requests with a full account of the particulars of the case, including the timeliness of the advertiser’s compliance.
- Should an advertiser fail to respond to Ad Standards' request to remove or modify advertising, Ad Standards will liaise with industry and media bodies such as FreeTV, and the Outdoor Media Association which will either negotiate with the advertiser directly for the removal of the advertisement or in specific cases, take action to remove the advertisement.
- Under appropriate circumstances, Ad Standards will refer an advertiser to a government agency such as the Commonwealth Department of Communications, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Attorney-General’s Department, or to State Police Departments to request that these agencies assist in taking action against the advertiser.