This information provides a general overview of Board determinations on complaints about the portrayal of violence in advertising.

It is designed to assist the advertising industry, the self-regulatory body, consumers and others interested in understanding how the Board has viewed violence in advertising where it has been the subject of complaints in the past.

It is not a “how-to” guide and is not an exhaustive or extensive consideration of all relevant issues.

Relevant section of the AANA Code of Ethics

2.3 Advertisements shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.

Definitions

Violence

A definition of “violence” is not set out in the Code of Ethics (the Code). This means that the ordinary English language meaning applies.

The Board considers the perceptions of violence raised by the complainant and then takes into account additional and relevant factors that may include: previous Board decisions; the type of product being marketed/advertised; the medium of the advertisement; and any other potentially mitigating circumstances.

The Board has considered that the phenomenon of “violence” includes the consequences of violence (i.e. depiction of an injured person not just the image of them being hurt), feelings of violation, shock and fright, and may involve:

  • depictions that condone or incite violence
  • intimidating behavior
  • abuse
  • bullying
  • domestic violence
  • sexualised violence
  • use of weapons
  • vandalism and violence to property
  • consensual violence
  • aggressiveness
  • exposing oneself to dangerous activities
  • threats
  • accidents
  • horror and gore
  • human atrocities and massacres
  • war
  • torture
  • exploitation and cruelty, including to animals

For the purposes of the Code, violence includes both actual depictions and suggested violence.

Justifiable

Section 2.2 of the Code requires that violence should not be depicted in advertising unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised. In some circumstances, the portrayal of violence may be deemed justified, such as in community awareness advertising or if the product being advertised contains violence e.g. computer games or films. The Board has generally considered violence to be justified where it is mild in impact for the viewer, generally does not depict any person injured or in pain, and the action does not include aggression. 

Level of community concern

Community concern about the portrayal of violence in advertising has been reflected in complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

Concern about violence was identified in 11.6 per cent of all cases raised between 2005 and 2014. In 2015 violence accounted for 11.8 per cent of complaints.

The ASB and the advertising industry have demonstrated their responsibility and commitment to good practice in this area by developing a coherent and responsible approach to the issue. This approach is grounded in ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful and are prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society.

In addition, the ASB commissioned research into this issue and published a research report on the matter in March 2009. 

See also: Violence: determination summary