Sex and shock value are key techniques used by advertisers to engage their audiences – and the regulators are OK with it.
A recent report published by the Advertising Standards Bureau revealed that 2014’s 10 most complained about ads have the passed ethical grounds to continue airing.
The ad that received the highest amount of complaints Australiawide comes from the woman’s sanitary company, Carefree.
The TV commercial features a young woman whose menstrual pad is exposed through her leotard; in another scene the ad includes a voice-over that mentions “shoving that up there”.
Raking in over 180 complaints since its broadcast, the key issues of concern were gender discrimination, sexuality and inappropriate language.
Determinations are made by the Advertising Standards Board, made up of 20 members from different backgrounds, gender and age groups. The board measures the ad by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) code of ethics.
Fiona Jolly, CEO of the Advertising Standards Bureau, is not surprised by the influx of negative feedback that has been received this year.
“Ads about these sanitary products and also about condoms can result in a higher number of complaints,” Ms Jolly told The Newsroom.
“Often this is because of the nature of the product and the discomfort caused in raising traditionally taboo matters.”
While the Bureau found no relevant basis to remove any of Australia’s 10 worst perceived advertisements, the amount of complaints lodged by viewers had almost tripled since 2013.
“Australia has a very diverse population, so this makes the likelihood quite high that someone, somewhere, will be offended or made to feel uncomfortable by an ad,” said Jolly.
“Opinions and community standards are also constantly changing.”
Ads that featured religious parody were also of top concern, along with broadcasts that were described as “violent” or “sexist” by its receivers.
Award winning advertising-creative Ian Thomson believes that ethical boundaries lay with a product’s intentional message.
“One of the first principles in advertising is to grab people’s attention. I think that’s where the danger begins,” Thomson told The Newsroom.
“Maybe sometimes it gets a little out of balance with making sure the messaging is appropriate.”
When asked for his opinion on the collective of ads whose complaints were dismissed by the Bureau, Thomson said: “You’ve got to look at where those complaints are coming from. The fact there’s an issue or a product that ruffles some feathers that’s uncomfortable with certain people doesn’t mean that the product is intrinsically bad or its message is inappropriate.
“There are a lot of issues that make people feel uncomfortable but for a good reason.” — Jessica Ankomah
Click to see Carefree ad – 185 complaints received.
Click to see Menulog ad – 117 complaints received.
Click to see St. John’s Ambulance ad – 34 complaints received.
Top Photo: screen shot from Carefree’s 2014 “Be Real” video campaign