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Ad Standards cases of 2019 so far – accusations and brands cross the line


Ad Standards cases of 2019 so far – accusations and brands cross the line


A new year brings a new stream of advertising complaints for the Ad Standards Community Panel to asses, some of them flippant claims of easy offence and others with serious impacts on society.

So far, Australian advertising seems to be behaving in 2019. Only seven of the 83 complaints filed to Ad Standards (as of today) have been deemed inappropriate by the Community Panel.

Cases assessed by the Community Panel are generally dismissed, upheld or sent for further review, though Ad Standards does have few legal tools to enforce its rulings. For cases that are deemed to breach the AANA Advertiser Code of Ethics (Code of Ethics), Ad Standards says bad publicity is generally a sufficient motivator for advertisers to take action; where that is not the case industry and media bodies such as FreeTV and the Outdoor Media Association are contacted and in severe circumstances cases are referred to the appropriate government agency.

According to Ad Standards, despite not having the enforcement power of a government entity, the industry body has a compliance record of “nearly 100%”.

Here, Marketing goes through some of the cases deemed inappropriate for public display and some of the more flippant complaints advertisers have been subject to.


Honey Birdette


My greatest concern is that this advertisement sexualises young women and is in full view of all public passing by.”

Issues raised:

2.2 – Objectification Exploitative – women

2.4 – Sex/sexuality/nudity S/S/N – general

2.4 – Sex/sexuality/nudity S/S/N – nudity

It’s not the first and it almost certainly won’t be the last time Australian lingerie company Honey Birdette is pulled up for pushing the line on sexualised advertising. This time, Honey Birdette was found to breach the Code on three separate occasions within a single month.

Honey Birdette Not Your Valentine


Though the Panel did determine that the advertising “did not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group,” it also did not “treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.”


Given the advertising’s prominent visibility in shopping centre windows, the claim against Honey Birdette was upheld for breaching Section 2.4 of the Code.

Honey Birdette did not provide a response to Ad Standards for any of the three accusations or their determinations.




“The language is offensive and should be removed. I dont[sic] want my granchildren[sic] reading such rubbish.”

Issues raised:

2.5 – Language Inappropriate language

You may remember back in August 2018 bedroom furniture company Koala placed a cheeky billboard in front of Ikea’s Sydney Tempe site reading, “NÖFNIDEÅ? No tools, no worries”.

Related: Koala Mattresses plants billboard in front of Ikea – ‘NOFNIDEA?’ »

Koala ikea poke


The OOH activation points fun at Ikea’s notoriously frustrating DIY assembly process and signature Swedish product names.

Inference of a swear word in advertising has been raised to Ad Standards several times before. In its response to the complaint, Koala referenced BCF’s famously controversial ‘BCFing fun’ spots from 2016 – noting that the Panel at the time took no issue with its wordplay.



The Panel ultimately decided that though “obscenity may be implied” the forbidden word itself did not make an appearance nor was its allusion “used in an aggressive manner”. The case was found to be in compliance with the Code and was dismissed.


Nestlé Australia


“I consider that making fun of how an entire ethnic groups speaks is offensive and I am certain this would not be tolerated if the advertiser used any other ethnic group that is resident in Australia today.”

Issues raised:

2.1 – Discrimination or Vilification Ethnicity

2.1 – Discrimination or Vilification Nationality

Promoting the release of Uncle Tobys’ new Breakfast Bakes oat bars, the spot pays homage to the brand’s ‘instant porridge’ TVC from 1989 featuring a young boy with a Scottish accent.

The new spot sees a father and son seated in a car, eating the Breakfast Bakes and struggling with miscommunication. The young boy, with a Scottish accent also, echoes the line from the ‘80s TVC.

“The use of Scottish accents is reminiscent of the iconic ‘80s advertisement with the memorable phrase ‘that’s not how you make porridge’,” states Cereal Partners Australia (distributor of Uncle Tobys).



Considering the “light-hearted and humorous” tone of the ad, the Panel decided that the father and son’s portrayal of the ad was “not mocking” and “consistent with a heavy Scottish accent”. Finding no breach of the Code, the case was dismissed.




“The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) submits that this advertisement breaches the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children.”

Issues raised:

Advertising to Children Code 2.07 Parental Authority

QSR – 1.1 – Advertising and Marketing Message Advertising and Marketing Message must comply

QSR – 1.3 – Products in Interactive Games Products in Interactive Games

The OPC specifically mentions the McDonald’s Happy Studio app, claiming on two fronts that it directly targets children and contains an appeal for children to urge their parents to purchase unhealthy food for them.

Maccas Happy Studios app


The app contains a series of games and activities designed for kids to, according to its Google Play description, “develop useful new skills”.

The OPC also takes issue with incentivising children to purchase McDonald’s Happy Meals in order to unlock further functionalities within the app.

“The app includes a call to action for children to ‘Scan your toy’, presumably referring to the toy provided with the Happy Meal – this is encouraging children to buy (or pester their parents to buy) Happy Meals to unlock extra content.”

In its defence, McDonald’s raises that the app “only promotes the healthier options of the Happy Meal,” mentioning that the activities and augmented reality masks in the app feature fruits and vegetables. McDonald’s also says that children do not need to purchase Happy Meals in order to participate in the app to its “fullest potential” – stating that non-McDonald’s branded items can be scanned using the app to unlock further levels.



The Panel decided that though the app featured only foods that would be “considered by most members of the community to be good dietary choices” and included advice to “balance your play with physical activity everyday,” the app was still “directed primarily to children”. The Panel did, however, side with McDonald’s in finding that the app did not encourage children to “urge parents to buy a product”.

McDonald’s begrudgingly obliged to the Panel’s determination and removed the app from the Google Play and iOS App Store. A new version has since been released, amended to comply with Ad Standards’ determination.




“The sexualisation of the ad is inappropriate. The comparison of men to meat is unacceptable.”

Issues raised:

2.2 – Objectification Degrading – men

2.2 – Objectification Exploitative – men

2.4 – Sex/sexuality/nudity S/S/N – general

2.5 – Language Inappropriate language

The complaint is in reference to one of Subway’s new 15 second TVCs featuring two women scrolling through what is ostensibly Tinder on their phones. The pair swipe approvingly to the right while making comments such as “I’ll have a slice of that” and “get in my mouth please”.



In response, Subway submitted that the ad does not discriminate or vilify men as a class, as the double entendre used in the clip suggests that the women are “attracted to what is on their phone (which is left open to the viewer’s interpretation)”. In addition, Subway argued that the ad did not create a negative impression or rely on gender stereotypes, nor does the ad include any profanity or allusions to profanity.



Given the comments “I’ll have a slice of that” and “get in my mouth please” were “accompanied by images of the food product,” the Panel decided that “sex and the context is quickly made clear that the woman are talking about Subway”. The case was dismissed on all issues.


Further Reading:




Image credit: Mirko Vitali

Josh Loh

Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au

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