Concerns have been raised around the Advertising Standards Bureau's complaints process, which requires only one letter of protest to kick off an investigation into an ad.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 10 ads have been pulled as the result of a sole complaint, including campaigns from 7-Eleven, HBF and BMW.
Industry insiders have suggested the system could be open to abuse by rival brands or agencies. Several people spoke off the record and suggested it was absurd that a million dollar ad could be pulled off the air because it raised the ire of one person.
TCO founder and chief executive Clive Burcham told AdNews: “The process doesn’t seem very democratic and it could become very anti-competitive. There’s also questions around the cost efficiencies of processing and investigating every one of those complaints.
“Additionally, purposefully getting an ad banned may be worth more in PR value than the cost of production, so there needs to be awareness that people may be using the system in that way.”
M&C Saatchi creative director Andy Flemming weighed in: “I’m surprised by that process. One letter is not necessarily representative of the country’s opinion. If a system is to be fair and just, a body should have the power to take a commercial off air when there is sufficient evidence a broad group of people are offended by something.”
The Australian Association of National Advertisers chief executive Scott McClellan said: “The self regulation system was designed so that even a single complaint can trigger an investigation by the ASB. This is an important principle, because the complainant could be representative of a significant portion of the community. That said, there is protection within the system against frivolous or vexatious complaints.”
ASB chief executive Fiona Jolly added: “The system needs to be accessible. If you set an arbitrary number, you risk disenfranchising people in the community.”
Conversely, ads which have received many complaints have had the case dismissed in some instances. In 2011, the ‘Rip & Roll’ gay safe sex poster was one of the most complained about ads of the year but all claims against it were dismissed.
ASB decisions are overseen by its board members, made up of 20 community representatives. The organisation receives over 4,000
complaints a year.
This article first appeared in the 15 June 2012 edition of AdNews. Click here to subscribe for more news, features and opinion.
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