What upset Australia in 2015?
Judging by the complaint statistics released by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), it’s swearing kids, sexual innuendo and fleeting gay kisses.
Quite predictable, and incredibly depressing at the same time.
Although, if you look closer, the top ten complaints to the ASB involved only 648 complaints, with the total number of complaints received by the ASB in 2015 standing at just over 2,700. Those numbers represent 0.0027% and 0.011% of Australia’s population.
From that I am willing to conclude that if you ever actually lodged a complaint with the ASB, you are a particularly peculiar Australian, but good on you! Variety is the spice of life.
“I’ve always admired your tart honesty and ability to be personally offended by broad social trends.”
Principal Skinner to Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, in ‘Grade School Confidential’ (Episode 19, Season 8)
Advertising in Australia is a self-regulating industry. Our system of self-regulation was established by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) in 1998 following extensive consultation with the community, industry and the government, and it works through a set of rules and principles of best practice to which the industry voluntarily agreed.
The Advertising Standards Board is the centrepiece of this self-regulatory system and it resolves complaints lodged by members of the public in respect of advertising in Australia.
The most complained about ad of 2015, with 161 submissions, was an ad for Holden which featured a father and son enjoying a drive together, with the young son seated in the back seat. As the vehicle overtakes a slow-moving vehicle towing a caravan, the father utters ‘bloody caravaners.’ His son imitates his father, also saying ‘bloody caravaners.’
In Case Number 0098/15 the ASB went on to hold that the word ‘bloody’ is a ‘colloquial term used express frustration or to emphasize what is being said,’ and in the circumstances the boy copying his father in using the phrase was not inappropriate:
“The Board noted the complainants concerns in particular that the young boy copies his father and uses the word ‘bloody’ himself. The Board agreed that the overall tone of the advertisement was highlighting a camping trip and time spent with a father and son and that the son copying his father in this instance was not abusive or angry and that the father is not condoning or encouraging the child to swear or to use inappropriate language toward other drivers.”
Ads for Ashley Madison featured twice in the top ten, in second and ninth place, although their lax cyber security has done more damage to their brand than the complaints to the ASB.
One of the ads objected to featured men singing they were ‘looking for someone other than my wife,’ (Case Number 0036/15), and the other involved women conversely singing about ‘looking for someone other than my man,’ (Case Number 0106/15), attracting 138 and 30 complaints.
In respect of the first complaint the ASB emphasised that the service is legal and ‘there is no restriction on such a service being available or on it being promoted, rather only on how it is promoted. The Board considered that the promotion of a service promoting affairs or infidelity is not of itself a matter that can be addressed by applying the Code,’ however it held the ad breached Section 2.1 of the AANA Code of Ethics:
The majority of the Board however considered that the emphasis on the term ‘wife’ gave a strong message that ‘wives’ are inadequate or somehow lacking and that this suggestion is degrading to wives and does amount to material that demeans or makes people think less of wives. The majority of the Board considered that this element of the advertisement breached section 2.1 of the Code.
Section 2.1 of the Code provides:
2.1 Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.
Conversely, the ASB cleared the second ad, because it found its tone distinctly different from the male version of the ad, in that it did not refer to ‘husbands’ but rather ‘my man,’ and there were no suggestions that any of the featured women are married, and their wedding ring fingers were not visible.
In third place was Stan’s advertisement featuring Rebel Wilson, referring to her cat as a ‘big pussy,’ attracting 66 complaints.
The ASB didn’t have much trouble finding (Case Number 0208/15) these complaints baseless, holding the ad did not portray or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of their gender, and did treat the issue of sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
As for using the word ‘pussy’ as a slang term for a vagina, the ASB found that the use of the word in the ad is ‘given context by the depiction of an actual cat and considered that whilst the advertisement is clearly playing on a double entendre the use of the cat lessens the impact of the word,’ and ‘most members of the community would not find the word ‘pussy’ when used in conjunction with a cat to be language which is strong, obscene or inappropriate in the circumstances’.
Fantastic Snacks Australia found itself in the fourth spot with 63 complaints over an ad which showed a wife licking chip flavouring off her husband’s lips (Case Number 0253/15) …
The ASB dismissed the complaints, noting that while it acknowledges that some members of the community would be uncomfortable with such displays of affection, the couple are fully clothed and there is no suggestion of any further intimacy and the style of kissing is not of itself inappropriate.
In fifth place, with 62 complaints, is one of my favourite ads of the year, from Unilever Australia, which features a fleeting, highly stylised gay kiss scene as it flogs a hair styling product (Case Number 0026/15).
The complaints against this ad were particularly telling in their tone:
“I am offended because 2 men kissing should not be shown on a TV advertisement especially during prime time television in the break of a kids movie. I find it extremely offensive.”
“The advertisement shows two men kissing. It is appalling to have this ad during the day under a PG rating. As a mother I disagree with this normalisation of this behaviour under a PG rating. Therefore I ask channel 7 to no longer allow this to be broadcast during ads for PG rated chows. Looking forward to hearing from you.”
“Sitting in front of the TV around 7.30pm, with my wife & 3 young children 15, 13 & 8 years. Being confronted by a hair product ad that had a male character kiss another male character! I nearly fell of the lounge! Yes, Australia is a free country, but, this ad seems to me to show the gay minority dictating terms to the (normal) majority!! Describing why that boy would want to kiss another boy to the kids! AWKWARD!!”
“ISIS has some ideas on how things should be run, ISIS believe these ideas to be the only way. Fortunately, Australia is not accommodating ISIS, yet…
The ad has homosexual content, two men kissing”
“This is immoral and deeply offends my/our religious beliefs and family values. What’s worse is our young boys witnessed this ad a number of times and is something they just should not see. This ad must be modified or removed to meet moral obligations.”
“Gay agenda forced into the home through ads.”
“Because one of the scenes that they show you he is watching on TV is him kissing a man which is unacceptable on national TV. This is not acceptable in a normal house hold where children are watching TV.”
“The ad is less effort more style.
I am enraged that such an add can be on tv at this time.
It is not right in any way and should not be allowed on tv at that time during family viewing. After midnight maybe, not at all even betting.
Call me to discuss I am complaint to Lynx as well.”
“Although I did not pay much attention to the content of the advertisement I was very offended when in the advert I saw there is a scene which clearly showed two young men KISSING each other on the lips…I would consider they are meant to be two young Gay men kissing each other. I am also extremely concern that showing this gay kissing content at 4.55pm in the early afternoon is a time when many children could or would be watching TV.
The advertisers and particularly Channel 7mate have clearly shown very poor judgement and poor quality control of sexually explicit material, gay men kissing, at a time when children can be exposed to such sexually explicit content.
Also, as the majority of our population is NOT GAY I am offended and disgusted to be exposed to gay men kissing, and I am 56 years old.
TV stations should recognise that gay content is not warranted, is offensive to the MAJORITY OF THE VIEWING PUBLIC and should be excluded from television, ESPECIALLY during times when children are watching and are vulnerable to such sexually unacceptable content. I hope this message will be strongly conveyed to the 7 Network who owes the general public a Duty of Care to monitor sexual content on our TV screens.
“A homosexual kiss represents immoral, indecent behaviour which is highly offensive to myself and most people I know. As a school teacher, the majority of parents I interact with also do not want this shoved in our faces, and more importantly, our kids’ faces.
Homosexuals represent a tiny fraction of our population (1/50th). They can do as they please privately, but their practices should not be displayed publically due to their high offensive nature, as millions of Australians interpret it. These are values which we don’t want our kids exposed to. On behalf of millions of teachers and parents in Australia, please remove this vulgar, offensive advertisement.”
And so on …
The ASB made short work of these complaints by noting ‘the majority of concerns raised related to the men kissing.’ The ASB acknowledged some people may find this inappropriate, but observed ‘the kiss is fleeting and in today’s society it is not inappropriate to show gay intimacy …’
There you have it.
Gay is a-okay, you don’t need to be ashamed of your pussy, or licking your husband, and if your kids say ‘bloody’ every once in a while they are just being colloquial …