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Black, white or grey? Updates to the AANA Code of Ethics


Black, white or grey? Updates to the AANA Code of Ethics


This article first appeared in the February 2012 issue of Marketing magazine, available here.


Somewhere in between the black (guilty!) and the white (not guilty!) of our legal system lies the colour grey. Grey being the colour of ethics. My art director friends tell me the human eye can detect about a hundred shades of grey, ranging from really light grey/almost white through to a dark murky grey.

The Advertising Standards Board, which administers the AANA (Australian Association of National Advertisers) Code of Ethics, operates in this grey area. It receives over 3000 complaints a year, requiring a black or white verdict. Informing its decisions are community standards, which in turn are informed by personal and societal ethics.

The AANA Code of Ethics puts forward an agreed set of ethical principles that dictate what advertising content is acceptable and unacceptable, black or white, if you will.

Technological advancement, globalisation, historical events and government changeovers have a profound effect on our ethics, continually shifting the way ethics inform our decisions and behaviour.

Similarly, the rapid rises of online and digital have posed their challenges to the Code, and it was therefore in need of updating. At the same time, a number of government inquiries have indicated a discomfort in the community with the level of sexualisation in advertisements and called for us to address this. Hence the AANA has consulted stakeholders and then introduced an amended Code to reflect the changing world we live in.

It is paramount for advertisers and marketers to know about these changes, as the Code is a barometer of acceptable standards in the community, while also reminding us to continually lift those standards.

One area of change is the definition of marketing communications as covered by the Code. With a newer, broad reaching redefinition, it is now clear that tweets, advertorial and sponsorship announcements are subject to the Code.

A second area of change is the introduction of a new clause that disallows objectification of people. Besides the Code prohibiting sexualisation, it now also forbids advertising that uses images of men, women or children with sexual appeal in a manner that is exploitative, degrading and lacking moral, artistic or other values.

And then a third change is that, if complaints arise about the suitability of content for certain audiences, advertisers will now be called upon to provide audience measurement data. Simply put, if an advertisers says they were targeting mums in their ads in a G rated time slot, OzTAM data can be used to check whether that is indeed the audience for commercial free-to-air and subscription television. In the same vein, the Code now calls for the language used in ads to be appropriate for the relevant audience.

If this is all still a bit obscure, here’s the good news: alongside the changes, a practice note has been developed, using examples and plain English to help make the Code easier to understand and apply.

The revised Code took effect in January 2012, allowing for a period of adjustment and training, so get your teams onto this if they aren’t already.

Margaret Zabel

Margaret Zabel is the CEO of The Communications Council. Margaret has over 20 years of professional experience including strategic and financial planning, sales, marketing and consulting. She has worked extensively at senior levels with major high profile companies, including Frito-Lay Australia (Pepsico), IBM, Gulf Oil and PetroCanada Oil. Margaret is the former National Marketing Director of Lion Nathan Australia. Margaret was most recently acting CEO for not for profit ‘R U OK?’ and continues as a board director.

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