Violence: determination summary

Issues highlighted in cases relating to Section 2.3 of the AANA Code of Ethics that have been considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel include:

Community awareness

Each year Ad Standards receives numerous complaints about community awareness advertisements. These advertisements include messaging relating to public health or safety. The Community Panel has consistently stated that a higher level of graphic imagery is recognised as being justifiable in public education campaigns because of the important health and safety messages that they are intended to convey.

The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertisements which portray realistic and graphic situations intended to evoke a strong reaction in the community in response to an important call to action, or awareness raising, is a justifiable use of violence.
  • Advertising which uses confronting and graphic imagery to promote important health services are a justifiable use of violence.
  • Advertisements which only reference violence, and do not depict it, to raise awareness about an important social issue will not breach the Code.

The Community Panel however can find advertisements to breach this Section of the Code, even if the violence is related to the issue being advertised, if the level of violence is still too high to be justifiable to the relevant audience. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertisements which are likely to be seen or heard by children, cannot create a feeling of fear or menace in children which is not justifiable in the context of the product or service being advertised.
    • Animal Liberation Queensland – 0433/15
  • Images of a highly violent and graphic nature are not appropriate in any circumstances when they are likely to be seen by children.

Domestic violence

The issue of domestic violence is a very serious one and in the Community Panel’s view advertising should not encourage or condone actions which can be perceived as unacceptable behaviours. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Any malicious threat of violence towards a partner, even in a fantasy situation, is unacceptable.
    • Ashley Madison - Avid Life – 0237/15
  • The threat of violence without the act itself, where the tone is menacing and threatening, is enough to make the advertisement breach the Code.
  • While acknowledging that an unlikely interpretation may be that an advertisement is suggestive of domestic violence, in cases where most reasonable members of the community would not reach this conclusion will not in the Community Panel’s view breach the Code.
  • Light-hearted banter between couples in safe and loving relationships, where the tone is not threatening or aggressive, will not constitute domestic violence.

Entertainment

Violence shown in the context of promoting a movie or game that is inherently violent, is often viewed as acceptable by the Community Panel, if it is not likely to cause undue alarm or distress to members of the community. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Although violence in advertising for entertainment products is often justifiable, if an advertisement is likely to cause undue alarm or distress to members of the community, it may still be seen to breach this Section of the Code.
    • Roadshow Film Distributors – 0392/18
  • Depiction of characters from video games when advertising the game is a depiction that portrayed violence that is justifiable in the context of the product being sold.
  • When promoting movies, events and shows, it is reasonable for the advertiser to show violent images or scenes related to the product being promoted.
    • Roadshow Film Distributors – 0389/18
    • Paramount Pictures Australia – 0198/18

Weaponry

Advertisements using images of weapons are also considered under Section 2.3 of the Code. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertisements which show weapons used in a threatening or violent manner, especially when not related to the product being promoted, will be found to breach Section 2.3 of the Code.
  • The use of a character which is of principal appeal, and immediately recognisable, to children, holding a weapon is not appropriate in any circumstances.

The Community Panel has also dismissed complaints against some advertisements depicting weapons, where their use is not threatening or dangerous. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • The use of a weapon in an advertisement which is unrealistic, exaggerated and humourous can be considered acceptable where the use of weapons is clearly fantasy and are not depictions of violence nor are they likely to encourage similar behaviour in real life.
    • Meat & Livestock Australia – 0018/16
  • The depiction of a gun or other weapon in the promotion of a game, movie or show that features weapons is justifiable, if that weapon is not being depicted in an overly threatening or alarming manner.

Cruelty to animals

The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which shows people interacting with animals in a cruel or unhealthy way which could be copied by members of the community, will be found to be in breach of the Code.
    • Carlton and United Brewers – 0029/16
  • Advertising which shows people interacting with animals in a realistic manner, where the animal is not seen to come to any harm is not considered cruelty to animals.
  • Advertising which suggests, but does not depict, animal hunting will not breach the Code when related to legal hunting equipment and practices.
  • Advertisements which use computer-generated images (CGI) of animals in situations which may be unsafe for real animals, does not constitute animal cruelty.
  • Where an advertisement is humorous and/or unlikely to be real or taken seriously by the general community, it will not breach this provision of the Code.

Bullying

The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which shows siblings interacting with each other in a playful and realistic manner will not be seen as bullying, especially if they are seen reacting positively.
    • Coca-Cola South Pacific – 0210/16
  • Any depictions or threat of violence towards a person will be seen as bullying and a breach of the Code, especially if the person on the receiving end of the actions reacts in a hurt or negative manner.
    • Sir Walter Premium Lawn Turf – 0142/16

Sex and violence

There is often a high level of concern about the depiction of violence in advertisements which also have sexual themes, this includes depictions of people with handcuffs, whips or chains. The Community Panel has dismissed a number of complaints under this provision. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertisements which suggest someone is handcuffed are not considered as promoting sexual violence if the hands are not visible and it is not clear if they are bound or not.
  • Advertisements which show someone in handcuffs are not considered to be suggestive of sexual violence where the person is depicted as confident and happy and there is no suggestion that they are being forced to wear the handcuffs.

Depictions of pain

Advertisers should take care or reconsider using violence in advertisements if violence is not directly related to their product or service. Often if a violent act is directed at a person, a positive or a negative reaction to the violent act can influence the Community Panel’s decision.

The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Where physical violence is shown in an advertisement and the person on the receiving end of the violence reacts in a negative way, such as sadness or silence, this amounts to a depiction that was violent and that the violence was not justifiable.
  • Advertising which shows a lack of reaction to a violent event may lessen the impact of the violence and make it appear unrealistic and humorous.
  • Advertising which depicts a light-hearted domestic scene which most people would interpret as horseplay rather than violence, such as a light kick or push, where the reaction is positive does not breach the Code.

Suggestions of violence

The Community Panel dismissed a number of complaints about advertising that suggested, rather than depicted violence. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Where there is no actual image of violence, advertising with suggestions of violence are unlikely to breach the Code.

Other violence

The Community Panel considered a number of other issues which raised concerns about violence. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which references or depicts suicide without providing appropriate referral information will usually be seen to breach the Code.
  • Advertising which uses humorous and exaggerated scenes which are clearly fantastical and unlikely to be taken seriously by most members of the community are unlikely to breach the Code.
    • Wesfarmers Kleenheat – 0326/16
    • The Smith's Snackfood Co – 0045/16
  • Advertising which shows people acting in a humorous, light-hearted manner are not considered as being acts of violence.
    • Sanitarium Health Food Company – 0256/16
    • Mars Confectionary – 0258/16