Issues highlighted in cases relating to Section 2.1 of the Code that have been considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel include:

Discrimination against age

The Community Panel has recently found two advertisements to breach this section of the Code. The Community Panel was of the view that:

  • Advertising which suggests that someone in a professional role is not good at their job because they are young or they look young is discriminatory towards young people.
  • Phrases which create a negative stereotype of older women are vilifying to women on the basis of age.

The Community Panel is of the view that:

  • While some members of the community may find the stereotypical depiction of older people in advertisements patronising, advertisements will not breach the code unless the depiction discriminates against or vilifies a person on account of their age.
  • Advertising which shows a group of people acting in a wild and inappropriate manner, is not discriminating against young people when the focus of the advertisement is not on their age.
    • First National Real Estate – 0290/16
  • Portraying older people as sexual beings is not discriminatory when they are portrayed in a positive and active manner.
  • Depicting older people taking part in activities that are usually undertaken by younger people is not demeaning.
  • Advertising which promotes aged care facilities and associated activities is not patronising to elderly patients and can highlight that older people are still people.
    • Helping Hand Aged Care – 0163/17
  • Advertising which raise fears of ageing or negative aspects of ageing is not demeaning.

Discrimination on the ground of disability or mental illness

Although advertisers are generally careful to avoid discriminating or vilifying on the basis of disability, the Community Panel has found a number of advertisements to be in breach of Section 2.1.

The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Physically and verbally abusing someone because of a physical disability, even if it’s temporary, is not appropriate and constitutes discrimination.
  • Demeaning a group of people for using a particular device because of their disability constituted discrimination.

The Community Panel has also considered some advertisements in this area not to constitute discrimination or vilification. The Community Panel is of the view that:

  • While many people would find the use of people suffering from terminal illness to be confronting, the Community Panel considered that the Code does not preclude this use.
  • Reference to the word ‘suicide’ in advertising does not in itself equate to discrimination or vilification of people with mental illness.
    • Roadshow Film Distributors Pty Ltd – 0351/16
  • Advertising which suggests that a woman is more attracted to a man who is accident prone and requires care does not suggest that disabled men need women to look after them.
  • References to terms related to mental illness to describe someone who is angry, frustrated or acting unusually does not usually amount to discrimination towards people with a mental illness.
    • Energy Window Fashions – 0452/16

Discrimination against men

Complaints concerning discrimination or vilification against men commonly refer to the level of acceptability the advertisement would have if roles were reversed and women were in the spotlight. The Community Panel’s role is to consider each advertisement on its own merit and as such, addressing hypothetical alternatives is not part of their role.

The Community Panel has recently found one advertisement to breach the Code on the basis of discrimination against men. The Community Panel was of the view that:

  • Advertising which suggests all husbands are pests is degrading and vilifying of husbands.

In advertisements where concerns about discrimination against men had been received, the Community Panel is of the view that:

  • Advertising which references baldness in a light-hearted and humorous manner, will not breach the Code when balding men are not vilified or discriminated against.
    • DHI Medical Group Australia – 0318/16
  • Advertising which shows a woman in control of a situation, does not discriminate against or vilify any men who may not be shown to be in control.
  • Playful interaction between a woman and a man, where the man does not react in a negative manner, is considered as reflective of a playful relationships and not discriminating or vilifying the man.
    • Pacific Brands Holdings Pty Ltd – 0337/16
  • Advertising which highlights facts about gender equality and makes statements about affirmative actions taken to help females, is not in itself discriminatory towards men.
  • Advertising which highlights the causes of violence against women, does not suggest that all men are violent towards women or that men cannot be victims of domestic violence.
    • Department of Social Services – 0212/16
    • Department of Premier and Cabinet (Victoria) – 0049/17
  • The depiction of women admiring men, where the male is depicted as confident and enjoying being admired, does not amount to material which discriminates against or vilifies men.
    • Freeview Australia Limited – 0387/16
  • The use of the phrase ‘size does not matter’ is a common and light-hearted innuendo used in Australian vernacular and the overall impact is not vilifying of men.
  • The use of an attractive naked male, with no genitals visible, in advertising does not constitute discrimination, especially when the nakedness is directly related to the product being sold.
  • Although some people may consider the discussion of a man’s erectile dysfunction to be inappropriate or demeaning, in most cases the use of this topic does not amount to material that is discriminatory to a particular identifiable group of men.
  • References to masculine stereotypes are not considered to be discriminating or vilifying of men, where the references are light-hearted and humorous.
  • Concerns about the depiction of men as incompetent in one advertisement does not suggest that this same situation applies to all men, or that it is specific to men.
  • Advertisements for female-only services or activities are legally able to be advertised, and highlighting this key feature in advertising does not amount to discrimination or vilification of men.
  • Catholic Ladies College – 0164/15

Discrimination against women

Complaints concerning discrimination against women generally attract high complaint numbers. Imagery of women presented in a sexualised manner can be considered under Sections 2.1, 2.2 and 2.4 of the Code depending on the content of the advertisement and nature of the complaint.

The Community Panel has upheld a number of complaints about advertisements for discrimination or vilification of women, and is of the view that:

  • Advertising which reduces women to sexual objects for men’s pleasure presents women in a manner which is degrading and shows them in an unfair or less favourable manner.
  • Advertising which uses the term ‘bitch’ will often be seen to be disparaging towards women.
  • Advertising which shows women as ridiculous and unable to recognise a dangerous situation incites ridicule towards their behaviour and women in general.
  • Advertising that suggests men should outsource their sexual relationships with their wives to other women amounts to discrimination against wives.
  • Advertising which compares women's body parts to those of animals amounts to discrimination against women.
    • Assure Cosmetic Centre – 0137/17

The Community Panel is of the view that a number of advertisements did not constitute discrimination or vilification of women, determining:

  • Advertising which makes a comment about one woman is not usually seen as a comment which would apply to all women.
  • The amount or type of clothing a woman is wearing in an advertisement often causes concern in the community, however when that clothing is related to the product being sold this depiction does not amount to discrimination or vilification if the women are not depicted in an overly sexualised manner.
  • Advertisers are free to use whomever they choose in an advertisement, and that choosing to use attractive women is not discriminatory towards women.
  • Advertisements which show men admiring women do not amount to discrimination of women when the men’s actions are depicted as appreciative rather than threatening and the women react positively to the attention.
    • Cosmetic Elegance – 0321/15
    • Urban Purveyor Group – 0359/15
    • Rejuvenate Wellness Centre Rockhampton – 0378/15
  • Advertising which shows a man interacting with his female partner in way that would be inappropriate for strangers, is highlighting a normal domestic situation and not discriminating against the female.
  • The use of a derogatory term about a particular woman in an advertisement, did not amount to a depiction that discriminates against or vilifies a person on account of gender.
  • The use of female stereotypes, when not used in a negative way, does not amount to discrimination or vilification.

Discrimination against gender

Discrimination against transgender and gender diverse people is considered under Section 2.1 of the Code. Concerns generally focus on the representation of gender diverse people in advertisements.

In advertisements where concerns about discrimination against gender diverse people had been received, the Community Panel is of the view that:

  • Advertising which shows men wearing skirts or tutus, where the representation is positive and the person is not being held up to ridicule does not amount to discrimination or vilification of gender diverse people.

Discrimination on the ground of ethnicity, race or nationality

Discrimination against certain ethnic or racial groups or nationalities is considered under Section 2.1 of the Code. Concerns generally focus on the use of stereotypical portrayals and accents representative of different nationalities.

The Community Panel has determined a number of advertisements breached the Code in this area. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • The depiction of someone of a particular race being subservient to someone of another race in a way which is reminiscent of historical servitude is considered to be a depiction which is discriminatory.
  • The depiction of someone of a particular racial type being feared by other people leaves a negative impression of people of that ethnicity, and amounts to vilification.
  • Advertising which features ‘gollywog’ characters will be seen to breach the Code as these characters represent a symbol that humiliates and ridicules a person on account of the colour of their skin.
    • The Beechworth Sweet Co – 0278/16
  • Advertising which depicts immigrants/refugees in a negative way is discriminatory.
    • Trelly's Tackle World Shepparton – 0054/17
  • Depictions and imagery which are likely to give a negative depiction of people of particular race, ethnicity or nationality are seen to be discriminatory and vilifying.

The Community Panel also dismissed a number of complaints relating to discrimination in this area. The Community Panel is of the view:

  • Although diversity in advertising is to be encouraged, using only one race or ethnicity in an advertisement is not in itself discriminatory towards other races.
  • Advertising which uses humorous or positive stereotypes of different nationalities, if the stereotypes are not negative or derogatory, does not amount to discrimination and vilification.
  • Advertising which references the amount of white males on TV in a humorous and light-hearted way to bring attention to an issue of diversity, does not amount to discrimination against that demographic.
    • Meat & Livestock Australia Ltd – 0414/16
  • Advertising which highlights that some people may struggle to pronounce names not common in their home country is not a negative depiction of other nationalities.
  • Advertising which uses Australia Day themes, does not on its own discriminate against or vilify Aboriginal culture.
    • Frucor Beverages Australia – 0098/16
    • Meat and Livestock Australia – 0017/16
  • Advertising which shows a person of a particular race or nationality in a situation where they require help and assistance, is not suggesting that all people of that race or nationality would need that assistance.
  • Depictions of other cultures or cultural activities in advertisements can often receive complaints, when complainants believe that a depiction is insensitive or incorrect, however when the depiction is not negative this does not amount to discrimination.
  • Advertisement which use people of different ethnicities in roles where there is no reference to or focus on the person’s ethnicity, are not seen to be representative of all people of that ethnicity.

Discrimination against religion

The Community Panel is of the view:

  • The depiction of a hand being nailed to a piece of wood and references to the act was seen by the Community Panel to be discriminatory towards members of a religion.
  • The suggestion that a priest would engage in sexual relationships with animals or children was seen by the Community Panel to be vilifying towards members of a religious order.

The Community Panel also considered a number of advertisements to not breach this provision of the Code and is of the view:

  • As well as being an important part of the Christian calendar, ‘Christmas’ has been commercialised as a holiday season and considered that the use of the word Christmas, along with the visuals of a decorated tree and a man dressed as Santa Claus, is a secular portrayal and not a portrayal which is disrespectful or discriminatory towards people with strong Christian beliefs.
  • While some members of the community may find using a depiction of a burger as the head of a religious figure offensive, in the context of a cartoon on a website most members of the community would not find this depiction discriminatory or vilifying of the religion.
  • In modern English, ‘Hallelujah’ is frequently spoken to express happiness that a thing hoped or waited for has happened, without any religious significance, and the use of a popular religious song which contains this word is not vilifying religious beliefs.
  • While some members of the community with very strong Christian beliefs could find the use of the Lord’s name to be offensive to their faith,  most members of the community, including Christians, would find that using the phrases, ‘Thank God’ and ‘Jesus’ as expressions of relief and disbelief is not aggressive and is not attacking or discrediting the Christian faith.

Discrimination against sexual preference

The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Singling out gay men as different to other men and labelling their behaviour in a manner which is offensive amounts to vilification on the basis of sexual preference

The Community Panel also dismissed a number of complaints about advertisements under this provision of the Code, finding:

  • Advertising which shows a male acting in a flamboyant and effeminate way, where there is no reference to homosexuality, is not intended to mock gay people as the character was using behavioural not sexual traits.
  • Advertising showing two men, or two women kissing often receives large numbers of complaints, however this alone does not depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of sexual preference.
  • Light-hearted humour in situations involving male closeness is not homophobic and does not amount to a derogatory sentiment toward homosexual men.

Discrimination on the ground of physical characteristics

Discrimination on the ground of physical characteristics can include aspects such as height, weight, hair colour and perceived attractiveness.  The Community Panel has dismissed a number of complaints about advertisements in this area. The Community Panel is of the view that:

  • Advertising which depicts a person being singled out because of their height and weight, when done in an exaggerated and humorous manner and where the person being singled out is not depicted in a negative light, does not amount to discrimination or vilification.
  • Showing images of healthy, fit people in relation to weight loss and dieting products does not amount to discrimination or vilification of people who are overweight or unhealthy.
  • Advertising which uses overweight actors in humorous situations, does not amount to discrimination if their weight is not highlighted or is not an integral part of the advertisement.

Discrimination on the ground of lifestyle choices

The Community Panel is of the view that:

  • It is discriminatory to present people who have not yet had sexual intercourse in a negative manner.

The Community Panel has dismissed a number of advertisements under this provision. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which makes humorous comments about vegans not eating meat, in a way which is not ridiculing or inciting hatred towards vegans, is not seen to discriminate or vilify a section of the community.

Discrimination on the ground of occupation

The Community Panel considers very few complaints under this provision. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which suggests that people may become frustrated when making phone calls to some companies does not suggest that the people who work in any type of call centre environment should be thought less of or treated badly because of the type of job they do.
    • Members Own Health Funds Ltd – 0556/16
  • Advertising which suggests one person is bad at their job, does not suggest that all people who work in that role are bad.
    • Isuzu UTE Australia Pty Ltd – 0262/16
  • Generalised statements about a particular industry, that are light-hearted and not the focus of the advertisement, do not constitute discrimination.

See also: Discrimination and vilification