Ad Standards reports 25% surge in complaints, points to “sexual imagery and violence”

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Richard Bean: “Advertisers need to make sure their ads align with evolving community standards”.

Industry advertising complaints watchdog, Ad Standards, received over 3,500 complaints about adverts in 2023 – a 25% jump over the previous year. 

Ad Standards investigated over 250 cases with the primary concerns flagged by complainants being issues related to “sexual appeal, violence, and behaviours contrary to community health and safety standards”.

Of these cases, Ad Standards upheld complaints against more than 70 ads. An additional 30 ads were promptly altered or removed by advertisers upon being notified by Ad Standards of the complaints it had garnered.

Ad Standards executive director Richard Bean told Mediaweek the increase sees the industry return to complaint volumes of previous years – Ad Standards received 4,500 complaints in 2021 and 3,500 in 2020.

“The most complained about ad attracted 350 complaints and generated national media coverage. In 2022, the most complained about ad attracted just 43 complaints.”

The increase coincides with the launch of an ad campaign by the watchdog earlier this year to generate community awareness of the organisation and consumers’ ability to speak out about advertising that may have breached guidelines. 

“Advertisers need to make sure their ads align with evolving community standards around the use of sexual imagery and violence, with these issues generating more than half of this year’s complaints,” said Bean. 

“Australia’s advertising rules are designed to ensure that every ad is a responsible ad, and that all ads align with community standards.”

A single complaint is sufficient enough to launch an investigation. 

Top 5 most complained about ads of 2023

1. WC Savage – Billboard
This ad featured a woman in a bikini and included the OnlyFans logo and a QR code.
Number of complaints: 350
Outcome: Dismissed

2. Red Rooster – TV ad
This ad shows a skateboarder stealing chicken from other skateboarders at a skate park.  
Number of complaints: 214
Outcome: Dismissed

3. Mars Wrigley Australia – TV ad (top image)
This ad for gum shows two women in a car listening to music. One leans over to kiss the other.
Number of complaints: 126
Outcome: Dismissed

4. Lovehoney – Billboard
This ad featured the phrase “Winter chills have never felt so good” and included an image of a hand holding a sex toy.
Number of complaints: 99
Outcome: Dismissed

5. Activision Blizzard Pty Ltd – Billboard
This ad for the Diablo IV video game featured a picture of a demon and the phrase “Welcome to hell”.
Number of complaints: 44
Outcome: Dismissed

See also:  Mediaweek’s Ad Placement of the Month: Melbourne billboard puts on one hell of a show

Richard Bean, Executive Director, Ad Standards

Richard Bean (Executive Director, Ad Standards)

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