Chapter 3 Regulating outdoor advertising
This inquiry was tasked with considering the effectiveness of the
current industry self-regulatory system, with a focus on outdoor advertising.
The Committee is of the view that any regulatory model should be subject to
regular review, monitoring and improvements.
This chapter considers possible models for the regulation of outdoor
advertising, and a number of initiatives to provide more rigour in the
regulation of outdoor advertising content.
The Committee considered different models available to regulate outdoor
- independent statutory
- quasi-regulation and co-regulation;
Particular attention is given to the Classification Board, which
regulates print and film media, as a possible regulatory model.
A large number of submissions called for outdoor advertising to be
regulated by the government through an independent statutory body.
Many of these submitters felt that decisions by the current Advertising
Standards Board did not reflect their personal view among the spectrum of
opinions represented within the submissions. Collective Shout suggests that ‘responsibility
for regulation should be given to an independent body or authority, with power
to establish a system of pre-vetting billboards before their placement’.
The advertising industry opposes government regulation. The Outdoor
Media Association (OMA) warned the Committee that:
A government regulatory or co-regulatory system would be more
costly and less efficient than the current system, and would add an unnecessary
regulatory burden on businesses and further the impact of the resulting delays.
The OMA notes that the third-party outdoor advertising industry
contributes to the national gross domestic product and has contributed millions
of dollars’ worth of free advertising space to charities and social
organisations. The Committee notes the
social responsibility of the industry and its contribution to community causes
and charitable organisations.
The Communications Council advised that:
We are concerned that if the existing scheme is altered or
replaced – for example by a government regulatory scheme – this may result
in slower determinations in response to complaints, and may act as a brake on
the sector’s growth, and hence its contribution to the economy and job
The Eros Association, the peak body for the adult industry, also opposes
government regulation, saying that ‘we strongly resist the creation of yet
another government agency to handle the regulation of billboard advertising in
The drawbacks of government regulation are the costs of setting up and
resourcing an agency to administer the regulatory system and the unlikelihood
of reducing the time taken to respond to complaints.
The Committee explored the framework of an existing government
authority, the Classification Board. Several submissions suggested the
Classification Board as a model for determining standards and applying
classification ratings to outdoor advertisements. The following section
considers the Classification Board as a model of a government regulatory
approach to outdoor advertising.
The Classification Board is an independent statutory body established by
the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth)
(Classification Act). The Classification Board classifies films, computer games
and certain submittable publications in Australia.
According to the Classification Act:
… a submittable publication is an unclassified publication
that contains depictions or descriptions that are likely to cause the
publication to be classified RC (Refused Classification), are likely to cause
offence to a reasonable adult to the extent that the publication should not be
sold or displayed as an unrestricted publication, or is unsuitable for a minor
to see or read.
Publications which are likely to be classified ‘Unrestricted’
are not generally required to be classified. The 'Unrestricted' classification
encompasses a wide range of material. Descriptions and depictions of
classifiable elements may contain some detail but the impact must not be so
strong as to require legal restriction.
Publications that are deemed submittable but have not been submitted for
classification can be called in for classification by the Director of the
Classification Board. Last financial year, the Director issued 49 call‑in
notices but none was complied with, leading the Classification Board to refer
the publishers to State and Territory law enforcement agencies.
The National Classification Code stipulates that classification
decisions are to be made under the following principles:
- adults should be able
to read, hear and see what they want;
- minors should be
protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;
- everyone should be
protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive; and
- the need to take
account of community concerns about:
that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and
portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.
Classification decisions are made by the Classification Board, which is:
… deliberately appointed to be representative of the
Australian community. Their terms are deliberately limited to seven years so
that there is turnover … that its make-up does evolve in time and therefore
reflect the evolving nature and views and moral standards of the Australian
The Classification Board views material in its original format to make classification
assessments. For example, films for cinema release are viewed on a large screen
whereas DVDs are viewed on a television screen.
The National Classification Scheme operates four industry assessor
schemes to complement the work of the Classification Board in the following
- computer games;
- additional content;
- television series;
- advertising for
unclassified films and computer games.
Industry assessors must undertake appropriate training with the Attorney
General’s Department to be authorised to assess material in one of the four
schemes. Authorised assessors
commonly come from the entertainment distribution industry.
Federal and state or territory governments operate the Classification
Liaison Scheme, whereby liaison officers visit publication, film and computer
game traders and distributors and provide advice about the National
Publications can be classified ‘Unrestricted’, ‘Category 1 Restricted’, ‘Category
2 Restricted’ and ‘Refused Classification’. The Classification Branch of the
Attorney-General’s Department advised the Committee that its Board has not
received an application to classify a billboard as a publication, but that it
might be possible for this to be done.
The G, PG, M, MA15+, R18+, X18+ and ‘Refused Classification’
classifications apply to films and the G, PG, M, MA15+ and ‘Refused
Classification’ classifications apply to computer games.
Several submitters to this inquiry suggested that, because of the public
nature of outdoor advertising and its unrestricted audience, outdoor
advertising should be subject to a G rating similar to that given to films and
The G rating for films and computer games means they are appropriate for
a general audience. According to the Guidelines for the Classification of
Films and Computer Games, the G category means that:
- sexual violence is
- sexual activity
should be very mild and very discreetly implied, and be justified by context
- coarse language
should be very mild and infrequent, and be justified by context
- drug use should be
implied only very discreetly, and be justified by context, and
- nudity should be
justified by context.
The inclusion of outdoor advertising in the classification scheme for
films and computer games, with outdoor advertising content limited to the
equivalent of a G or PG classification, was raised several times. The
Australian Christian Lobby argues for:
… outdoor advertising to have a general classification (G);
this would include shop windows, billboard and bus shelter advertising. The
only exception to this may be educational advertising regarding drink-driving or smoking
messages that may be deemed to be in the best interests of children.
2020Women Inc, a feminist organisation, agrees ‘as the images and
messages on billboards are visible to the entire community, they should be
included in the National Classification Scheme and a “G” rating should be applied
to all billboards and outdoor advertising.’ Mrs Kristen Butchatsky
believes that a G classification ‘would not place an unhelpful “burden” on
business but instead force advertisers to be more creative and imaginative
rather than constantly resorting to the old mantra that “sex sells”’.
However, the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law (the Castan Centre) cautions
that a G classification could ‘exclude advertising that is in the public
interest,’ such as illicit drug awareness, sexual health messages, or graphic
road safety campaigns and that ‘we may need a new system of classification with
respect to this kind of advertising’.
The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) told the
The classification regime is not one-size-fits-all. Our view
is that taking that classification scheme and laying it across billboard
advertising would be a very heavy-handed way to deal with the very small
percentage of advertisers who have been found in breach of the system. It would
be quite a heavy-handed approach and quite a departure from the self-regulatory
scheme that we have and the scheme that is in place overseas.
Quasi-regulation and co-regulation
The Australian Government’s Best Practice Regulation Handbook
describes quasi-regulation as:
… a wide range of rules or arrangements where governments
influence businesses to comply, but which do not form part of explicit
government regulation. Some examples of quasi-regulation include industry codes
of practice developed with government involvement, guidance notes,
industry-government agreements and accreditation schemes.
The Alcohol Beverages Advertising (and Packaging) Code Scheme (ABAC
Scheme) comes under this definition of quasi-regulation:
Under ABAC, guidelines for advertising have been negotiated
with governments, consumer complaints are handled independently, but all costs
are borne by industry. The ABAC Scheme is administered by a Management
Committee which includes industry, advertising and government representatives.
The alcohol industry states that the ABAC Scheme ‘is world best practice
for regulating alcohol advertising’. The ABAC Scheme offers
pre-vetting advice to alcohol advertisers for a fee.
The pre-vetting scheme ‘sets the regulation of alcohol advertising apart from
the other 98.7% of the advertising spend’.
The Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy recommended in 2009 that the
ABAC Scheme should be ‘reformed as a mandatory co-regulatory scheme’.
Co-regulation is defined as:
… the situation where industry develops and administers its
own arrangements, but government provides legislative backing to enable the
arrangements to be enforced. This is often referred to as the ‘underpinning’ of
codes, standards and so on. Sometimes legislation sets out mandatory government
standards, but provides that compliance with an industry code can be deemed to
comply with those standards. Legislation may also provide for
government-imposed arrangements in the event that industry does not meet its
An example of a co-regulatory system is television program
classification. The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) provides for
industry groups to devise codes of practice in consultation with the Australian
Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), who monitors the codes and deals
with unresolved complaints. Most free-to-air television content is classified
in-house, although ACMA is responsible for classifying television programs for
As discussed in the previous chapter, advertising in Australia,
including outdoor advertising, is currently self-regulated. This is the most
common method of advertising regulation around the world, and is preferred by
the advertising industry as costs to industry are low, as is the regulatory burden,
which enables the industry to be ‘fast-paced’ and responsive, and provides
scope for industry innovation and competition in advertising practices.
The Australian Government’s Best Practice Regulation Handbook
advises that self-regulation is an appropriate option for industries where
‘there is no strong public interest concern, in particular no major public
health and safety concerns’.
Advertising stakeholders point out that they have an interest in
ensuring that the self-regulatory system is effective, in order to avoid any
public scrutiny that may result in stronger regulation. The AANA, Communication
Council, and OMA Outdoor Advertising Advisory Paper and Checklist notes that
‘self-regulation could be placed at risk if there was a perception, valid or
otherwise, that the industry is not interested in addressing concerns raised by
the public about advertising standards’. They advise that:
Whether employed alone or as part of a multi-media campaign,
outdoor advertising is in all instances open to general exhibition. Therefore
careful consideration should be given to the choice of content.
The advertising industry claims that the low number of complaints upheld
by the Board demonstrates that the self-regulatory system is working. The
Communications Council argues that ‘when we look at the number of
advertisements out in the marketplace, the number of complaints received and
the number of decisions upheld, we are talking about a very small percentage’.
Five per cent of the advertising spend in Australia in 2010 went to
third-party outdoor advertising. This accounted for more
than 30 000 different advertisements. Outdoor on-premise
advertising probably accounts for an additional several hundreds of thousands.
In that same year, the ASB received complaints about a total of 520
advertisements. Of these, 90 were
outdoor advertisements (23 on-premise signage and 67 third-party displays), and
15 of the 90 were upheld by the Board.
The OMA states that ‘the self-regulatory system is efficient and
effective, and the small number of cases that have been upheld by the ASB do
not justify government intervention into the outdoor media industry’.
The ASB contends that advertisers are concerned about upholding their
image, and that the publication of an advertiser’s refusal to abide by Board
determinations ‘is generally unwelcome publicity for the advertiser and for
most advertisers such publicity is a threat to brand reputation and is to be
The OMA highlighted to the Committee the role of third-party outdoor
media companies in contributing to the building and upkeep of public
infrastructure, such as bus shelters, footbridges, public toilets, and kiosks.
These companies also have an economic interest in refusing controversial
advertising that may attract graffiti or vandalism of media displays.
The OMA devised its own Code of Ethics (OMA Code) for its third-party
outdoor media members. It is a voluntary code that outlines third-party outdoor
media companies’ responsibilities to the community and the environment.
Industry advocates argue that it is in the interest of the advertisers
to avoid producing advertisements that have the potential to be the subject of
complaints and possibly incur the cost and inconvenience of having to be
withdrawn. However, it can also be argued that the publicity generated by a
complaint and assessment is an incentive for advertisers to produce offensive
Collective Shout argues in its submission that ‘the advertiser …
benefits from the controversy stirred up by the billboard. Advertisers … [can]
deliberately exploit the self-regulation
system for publicity’.
Certainly Windsor Smith benefited from the public controversy
surrounding one of its outdoor advertising campaigns in 2000. The company acknowledged
… the publicity generated by complaints contributed to ‘the
best branding exercise we could have ever asked for. The media coverage was
estimated to be worth more than $4 million for our brand. The reaction was
absolutely fantastic for us and the shoe featured in the ad became one of our
However, parts of the advertising industry have demonstrated a strong
commitment to ensuring appropriate content in outdoor advertising. The OMA Code
endorses the AANA codes, the FCAI Code and ABAC (these codes are discussed
further in Chapter Four). In addition, the OMA has established Alcohol
Advertising Guidelines for its members.
The OMA state that their code was developed in recognition of the fact
Outdoor advertising is a medium that reaches almost every
member of the community when they are travelling outside of their home. Outdoor
advertising can be seen at any time of the day or night and cannot be turned
off, fast-forwarded, put aside or be left unopened.
Some OMA members have created their own internal guidelines within the
OMA Code and have processes in place to ensure that advertising is checked
For example, Adshel has Prohibition Guidelines that prevent
advertisements from being displayed on Adshel media if they contain certain
material, such as religious references, political messages, defamation, imagery
that resembles road signs, imagery that infringes trademarks, and sexually
explicit images. Moreover, Adshel
restricts alcohol advertising within 300m of schools.
oOh!media has a policy that restricts advertising on oOh!media sites if
they contain material that is, for example, violent, explicit, obscene,
offensive, discriminatory. There is also a
requirement to submit advertising to oOh!media two weeks in advance for
assessment against their internal code.
The Committee gave careful consideration to the regulatory models
available, especially in light of what appears to be escalating community
concern regarding outdoor advertising.
In regards to the Classification Board as a possible government
regulatory approach to advertising, the Committee notes the Senate Legal and
Constitutional Committee has recently tabled a report from its inquiry into the
Australian film and literature classification scheme. That Senate Committee had
wide-ranging terms of reference focussed on classification, with one point
addressing the possibility of including billboards under the classification
The approach of this House of Representatives Committee on Social Policy
and Legal Affairs is significantly different in that the focus is on the
category of outdoor advertising. This Committee is tasked with investigating the
effectiveness of the current self-regulatory arrangements to continue to
regulate outdoor advertising in line with community expectations.
After careful consideration of the National Classification Scheme, the
Committee has rejected the classification system as an inappropriate system for
regulating outdoor advertising. The purpose of classification is to provide
information on a cover about a publication, film or computer game’s content, so
that consumers can make an informed decision to purchase or view the item. It
is not feasible to classify an outdoor advertisement that does not contain any
additional content other than that which is on display.
Furthermore, publications are classified ‘Unrestricted’, ‘Category 1
Restricted’, ‘Category 2 Restricted’ and ‘Refused Classification’, rather than
rated G, PG, et cetera, like films and computer games. It is apparent to the
Committee that outdoor advertisements, regardless of the offensiveness of some
of them, are similar in content to publications that are ‘Unrestricted’, such
as most women’s or fashion magazines.
In addition, outdoor advertisements are an effective means of conducting
public health and social awareness campaigns, and if the content of such
campaigns is appropriate to a public space, these should not be restricted by a
G rating. Further, a regulatory scheme based on Government classification would
likely place a greater financial and administrative burden on the industry, and
it is consumers who would ultimately bear these costs.
The Committee failed to be convinced that a government regulatory or classification
model would improve compliance or provide a more effective means of regulating
the industry in line with community expectations.
The Committee recognises that under the current self-regulatory system
the number of complaints for outdoor advertising is low compared to the number
of outdoor advertisements that a person may see in a single day. In addition,
the number of complaints about outdoor advertising that are upheld by the Board
is even lower.
However, the low number of upheld complaints only supports the
self-regulatory model if there are no barriers to lodging complaints and if
Board decisions do in fact reflect community standards. This inquiry has found
that many members of the public do not believe that this is the case.
Similarly, the Committee has concerns about aspects of the current operation of
the complaints and determination processes.
The Committee recognises the role of the OMA and its members in
improving industry compliance and awareness, displaying social responsibility
and building infrastructure that benefits the public. However, OMA represents
mainly third-party media display companies rather than businesses that
On-premise outdoor advertising is much more common than third-party
outdoor advertising. The OMA measured outdoor advertisements on a stretch of
road in Sydney and counted only 14 third-party advertisements compared to
2 140 on-premise advertisements.
Therefore, the industry peer pressure that the ASB, AANA and OMA refer
to as an effective means of ensuring compliance only applies to a small slice
of the outdoor advertising landscape. While industry desire to maintain and
promote self-regulation may be high, there remain some ‘rogue’ businesses which
do not comply.
Following this inquiry, the Committee is unable to endorse fully the
current operation of the ASB. However, neither did the Committee find flaws in
the ASB operation which it considered could be only be rectified by imposing a
government regulatory model. To impose a government regulatory model as a
response would be over-reactive and would not necessarily provide solutions to
the current problems.
There is significant public interest and concern about the regulation of
outdoor advertising, and the Committee concludes that a more rigorous system of
self-regulation that is better in tune with community standards and with the
unique category of outdoor advertising is the most appropriate future approach.
The Committee also recognises the lower regulatory burden of self-regulation on
Government and the advertising industry.
That is not to diminish the significant problems that have been
identified with the current system. These must be addressed. It is the
conclusion of the Committee that the current self-regulatory model should
remain in place subject to further review by 30 June 2013.
At that point, it is the expectation of the Committee that the ASB and
other bodies named in this report will have implemented the recommendations
made here and demonstrated improved practices across the range of issues
If this is not the case, then the Committee considers that an
alternative advertising co-regulatory model should be instated, with particular
regard to the regulation of outdoor advertising.
Recommendation 1 — Advertising and industry bodies
The Committee recommends that the Australian Association of National
Advertisers, the Advertising Standards Board, the Australian Food and Grocery
Council, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and the Alcohol Beverages
Advertising Code Scheme report to the Attorney-General’s Department by 30
December 2011 detailing their responses and how the relevant recommendations
will be implemented.
The Committee further recommends that the Australian
Association of National Advertisers, the Advertising Standards Board, the
Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Federal Chamber of Automotive
Industries and the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme provide a
comprehensive report to the Attorney-General’s Department by 30 December
2012 detailing how the relevant recommendations contained in this report have
The Committee will consult with the Attorney-General’s Department to
review the implementation of this report’s recommendations and may revisit
these issues if it is not satisfied with progress made.
Recommendation 2 — Australian Government
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s
Department review by 30 June 2013 the self-regulatory system for advertising
by evaluating the industry implementation reports and assessing the extent to
which there has been effective implementation of the recommendations
contained in this report.
If the self-regulatory system is found lacking, the
Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department impose a self-funded
co-regulatory system on advertising with government input into advertising
codes of practice.
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s
Department conduct five-yearly reviews of the advertising regulatory system
to ensure that technological advances and changes in advertising trends are
being addressed adequately in line with community expectations.
Even though the Committee does not consider that government regulation
of outdoor advertising content is warranted, the Committee expresses it strong
view that the current self-regulatory system needs to be more rigorous and
transparent in order to address the serious issues raised in the inquiry.
In particular the Committee acknowledges the involvement of the ASB
during the inquiry, their willingness to engage in the process, and hear and
address criticisms in order to improve their practices. The Committee was
impressed by the commitment and professionalism of those representing the
industry and their genuine desire to provide the Committee with full access to
the workings of the ASB.
It is in part the professionalism of ASB representatives that has
persuaded the Committee that the industry has the desire and capacity to
implement the recommended changes in the time set.
The following section outlines the necessary steps to establish a more
rigorous self-regulatory system that is able to reflect community standards and
expectations, with particular reference to outdoor advertising.
The following two chapters outline other issues which must be addressed
by the ASB and other industry bodies in order to establish a robust
self-regulatory system for the future. Issues include deficiencies in the current
codes, review processes and improved complaints processes.
More rigorous self-regulation
The Committee commends the advertising self-regulatory system for
responding over the years to suggestions, recommendations and research
findings. However, these improvements have been largely reactive in nature,
whether to public criticism or other threats to the status quo. The Committee considers
that the self-regulatory system needs to be far more forward-looking and
The advertising industry has sought to demonstrate that the
self-regulatory system can be flexible and responsive in a way that legislation
For example, technological developments may result in outdoor
advertising that is more intrusive, interactive and realistic. The AANA and ASB
need to anticipate changes in the outdoor advertising industry that may need to
be addressed in revisions to advertising codes or Board determination
A more dynamic and proactive approach would likely reduce the number of
complaints made and so the administrative cost of addressing complaints.
Rather than a reactive regulatory body, the AANA and ASB must establish
themselves as leaders in the industry, taking on new responsibilities such as:
- addressing the
particular category and concerns of outdoor advertising;
- educating and
informing industry and local governments;
- keeping ahead of
technological developments and changing advertising trends;
- continuously checking
the pulse of community standards and amending Board determinations and industry
- increasing the advisory
service provided to industry; and
- monitoring their own
effectiveness by surveying advertising practices.
The following sections set out a number of key initiatives to improve
the effectiveness of the self-regulatory system to address community concerns
regarding outdoor advertising.
Outdoor advertising code
Outdoor advertising is a popular medium for advertisers, and is a
growing market. The Media Federation of Australia explains that:
The advertising spectrum will continue to explode with more
consumer choice and an increasing amount of time is being spent on the many
visual devices available in the market to stay connected, informed and
Furthermore, the regulation of outdoor advertising should not be more
lax than that of advertising in other media. The National Preventative Health
Taskforce Report explains that:
Experience from tobacco control indicates that when
restrictions do not cover all media, marketing is likely to become concentrated
in those media that are not covered, or not as heavily restricted … Research
indicates that food marketers are responding to pressures to reduce television
advertising by increasingly using print and new technologies … These other
non-broadcast media are often used by children without parental supervision,
making them more difficult for parents to monitor and control.
The Committee is aware that regulation of advertising only in certain
media can lead to a displacement of advertising to other media. At present
there are debates in society about classifying the endless array of mobile
phone game applications, and how to deal with the proliferation of internet
advertisements that can be hosted in any country. It would be unfortunate for
effective measures to be put in place in some media only to result in
inappropriate material burgeoning in outdoor advertising.
Considering the unique case of outdoor advertising, which is visible to
all audiences and cannot be avoided, the Committee strongly recommends that a
specific code for outdoor advertising be incorporated into the advertising
self-regulatory system. Such a code should be mindful of the nature of outdoor
advertising given that all people, including children, do not have a choice
about viewing it.
People may not support the product or, in the case of public awareness
campaigns, even the message of the advertisement. However the presentation of
the advertisement should not itself be offensive to generally held community
standards or be inappropriate to be viewed by children.
As pointed out in the Senate report on the sexualisation of children in
The real inability of parents to prevent the exposure of
their children to billboard advertising would be a legitimate justification for
the ASB and outdoor media advertisers and marketers treating this as a special
case under the current system of self-regulation.
In addition, the ever-present and unsolicited nature of advertising in
the public sphere has led to concerns about the cumulative impact of the
exposure to certain advertising content.
The Coalition on Food Advertising to Children discusses a 2008 study of
outdoor food and beverage advertisements near primary schools in New South
Wales, which found that 80 per cent were for products that are surplus to daily
With regard to alcohol advertising, industry members are:
… very keen on a form of regulation that evaluates the way a
single marketing practice is promoted and published, rather than regulation
that in general restricts the volume of commercial communication of alcohol
The Committee believes that when the Board takes into account prevailing
community standards in its decision-making, community concerns about the
prevalence of outdoor advertising in the public domain should be considered. In
particular this should be a consideration when assessing outdoor advertisement
with sexualised images or stereotypes.
Opponents of sexual objectification of women in outdoor media point out
that the cumulative nature of exposure to such material is more significant
than exposure to a single instance.
This is reflected in Commonwealth discrimination legislation, which in
some cases has acknowledged that the cumulative impact of certain workplace
incidents can result in sexual or racial discrimination in the conditions of
employment. The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that ‘significantly,
conduct which, of itself, might not be discriminatory, may contribute to a work
environment that is detrimental to women and give rise to liability for
Anti-discrimination legislation for the workplace is designed to ensure
a workspace that is amenable to all and free from offensive images. There are
obvious parallels to ensuring the amenity of public spaces. Hence the
cumulative impact of certain types of advertising and images should be
considered when assessing their appropriateness for outdoor advertising and
ensuring that they do not contribute to a hostile and discriminatory public environment.
The Committee concludes that recognising outdoor or out-of-home
advertising as a special category will provide a more effective self-regulatory
regime that can respond to community concerns in this area.
In addition the Committee notes that there is not clear legislation
regarding the display of racist or sexualised images in the public space. The
Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department investigate how
such displays may be brought under the scope of discriminatory practice.
Recommendation 3 — Australian Association of National Advertisers
The Committee recommends that the Australian Association of National Advertisers introduce a code of practice for out-of-home advertising and for use by the Advertising Standards Board when determining complaints about out-of-home advertising. The code of practice should recognise that out-of-home advertisements:
n occupy public space and have the potential to affect the amenity of that space for some community members;
n can be viewed by an unrestricted audience, regardless of their target audience; and
n have a cumulative impact on the community through the social messages they convey.
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s
Department investigate, through its anti-discrimination legislation
consolidation project, how to include the unrestricted display of racist or
sexualised images in the public space under the scope of discriminatory
Copy advice and pre-vetting
The European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), of which the ASB is
a member, describes advertising copy advice as ‘non-binding, pre-publication
advice’ that is ‘one of the key elements of a self-regulatory system’.
A European Union roundtable on advertising self-regulation identified
copy advice as a basic component of a best practice self-regulatory system, and
recommended it ‘particularly for media where advertising copy may have so short
a shelf-life to negative adjudications. Copy advice should ideally be provided
free of charge.’
The roundtable further noted that:
The principle purpose of copy advice is to prevent problems
before they happen; this benefits not only the advertiser, agency and media
immediately concerned, but also the wider advertising industry, by avoiding
complaints and being seen to promote social responsibility.
Providing copy advice, or a pre-vetting service, for outdoor advertising
campaigns minimises the negative effect of controversial advertisements being
displayed while complaints directed against it are being assessed.
As the Castan Centre notes:
The absence of a vetting mechanism places the onus on
complainants to address concerns about outdoor advertising. It furthermore
enables the most inappropriate advertisements to remain on public display for
the duration of the complaints determination process.
The ASB does not have a formal system of pre-vetting advertisements,
although there are some informal arrangements in the advertising industry. The
AANA has a copy advice system for members who request it, which was ‘put in
place following the Senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children. It is a
very informal process and it is available at present just for AANA members. It
is not widely used’.
OMA members have ‘internal vetting systems’ in place for advertising
accepted for display. The Alcohol Beverages
Advertising Code Scheme offers a pre-vetting service for a fee.
The Communication Council advises that it offers ‘non-legal advice to
agencies where questions arise around the taste, decency and/or risks
associated by communications campaigns, prior to their appearance in various
channels, including outdoor media.’
Collective Shout argues that a regulatory body should have the ‘power to
establish a system of pre-vetting billboards before their placement’.
The Castan Centre states that pre-vetting might improve the self-regulatory
system, noting that ‘while the vetting of all advertisements is one option, a
more targeted process may direct itself to particular products or services or
to advertisers who have been the subject of prior complaint’. The Castan Centre
further recommends that the ASB, a committee of the ASB, or an agency similar
to the Classification Board perform this function.
Pre-vetting does not preclude advertisements from being subject to
complaints, including upheld complaints, but minimises the likelihood of this
happening and enables obvious breaches to be detected before display. The
Committee envisages that outdoor advertising pre-vetting would provide advice
on whether the advertisement is likely to comply with outdoor advertising
regulations and, with reference to similar advertisements in similar media,
advise whether complaints are likely to be received.
The OMA noted to the Committee that pre-classified advertisements on
television ‘get the majority of complaints to the ASB and still they have
complaints that are upheld’. However, the
classification requirement for television commercials is to determine timeslot
programming, not their acceptability by the community. This in-house
classification service, which is paid for by the advertiser, does not
constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for ensuring compliance with
relevant legislation and codes.
Given that some outdoor advertisements such as billboards can take time
to remove following any complaint being upheld, and during any consideration of
a complaint they continue to be seen by a large and unrestricted audience, the
Committee considers that a non-binding copy advice or pre-vetting service
should be available.
Recommendation 5 — Advertising Standards Bureau
The Committee recommends that the Advertising Standards
Bureau introduce a transparent copy advice service, which provides
independent advice on the suitability of proposed advertisements, for all
The EASA has issued a Best Practice Recommendation on Advertising
Monitoring, which discusses ‘how to target monitoring on specific sectors,
media or issues which have attracted high levels of complaint’ and notes that
monitoring gives a self-regulatory system ‘a proactive role in ensuring
advertising code compliance’.
Unlike the Australian self-regulatory system, the UK Advertising
Standards Authority has a compliance and monitoring team that conducts regular compliance
surveys of specific industry sectors, such as alcohol, gambling and cosmetics
advertising, and proactively monitors advertising for breaches of the
Monitoring advertising for breaches is a way of minimising the impact of
unacceptable advertising on the public, and could address public reluctance to
lodge complaints. According to EASA:
To be truly effective, a [self-regulatory system] cannot
afford to restrict its activities to responding to complaints: if it does, its
interventions will inevitably be haphazard and lack consistency of
In relation to the current Australian system, the Salvation Army
Australian Southern Territory (Salvation Army) submits that ‘the system at
present relies on the public’s constant vigilance and commitment to lodge
Compliance surveys can identify overall compliance rates without relying
on the public to report outdoor advertising or have knowledge of applicable
codes. Measuring compliance rates across different sectors can inform
monitoring and education practices. For example, training can be directed at an
industry that has low outdoor advertising compliance rates, and more focused
monitoring can be targeted on that sector to check whether compliance improves.
The Committee was interested in the Classification Board’s industry assessor
schemes and liaison scheme. These appear to be a means of establishing good
industry liaison and being proactive in monitoring the content of classifiable
Elements from both of these schemes could improve the advertising
self-regulatory system. Industry assessors perform a similar role to the
provision of copy advice and the liaison scheme enhances businesses’
understanding of their responsibilities and obligations under the relevant
The Committee suggests that the ASB investigate these options as
mechanisms to be more active in their regulation rather than relying on
complaint responsiveness from the public.
Recommendation 6 — Advertising Standards Bureau
The Committee recommends that the Advertising Standards Bureau
conduct and publish annual random compliance surveys of outdoor advertising
across specific industries and specific elements of advertising codes, such
food and beverage sector;
advertising that portrays children;
at event venues and sportsgrounds; and
advertising that portrays sex, sexuality or nudity.
The Committee also recommends that Advertising Standards Board
members take on a formal monitoring role of outdoor advertising and
self-initiate investigations where warranted. The Committee considers that
the compliance surveys would inform the monitoring role.
The advent of new technologies is already changing the landscape and
impact of outdoor advertising, and will continue to do so in the future. The OMA’s
website indicates that outdoor advertising can be produced with holograms,
three-dimensional displays, animated neon, and inflatables, among other
JCDecaux boasts outdoor advertising displays that can transmit a range
of information to consumers on the spot via Bluetooth or mobile phone
technology. Smartphones have the
ability to transform two-dimensional images from billboards into animated
The Salvation Army recognises that:
Technological advances have also changed the nature and level
of sophistication available for advertising purposes. Growing prosperity in
Australia has also resulted in children, tweens and teenagers becoming a
significant marketing target cohort.
The Communications Council suggests that ‘new technology developments
may create opportunities for advertisers to become more targeted in outdoor
campaigns, considering time slots and likely audience in preparing outdoor
Some consideration was given to utilising digital billboards to restrict
certain advertisements to time zones when children would be unlikely to be in
public, such as late evening. However, the OMA notes that this may not be
cost-efficient: ‘If we are only talking about .02 per cent that are in
question, do you really want to have a whole system of time-of-day viewing for
that .02 per cent?’ Furthermore, digital
display infrastructure is more expensive.
However, as technological advancements are made and infrastructure
becomes more affordable, it is likely that outdoor media will embrace new
methods of drawing attention to advertisements.
The Committee urges the ASB to take a proactive approach to monitoring
these developments and respond appropriately with guidelines and codes as
This inquiry was prompted by concerns that outdoor advertising content
is not in line with community standards of what is acceptable for display in
the public space that we all use. Outdoor advertising is a unique form of
advertising because it affords consumers very little choice about viewing it.
If consumers do not approve of advertisements on television, radio or in
print, they can change channels, stations or the page. Outdoor advertising
cannot be avoided, and nor can children’s exposure to it be controlled or
moderated by parents.
The Committee set out to investigate the self-regulatory system for
advertising in Australia, and to determine whether it can address community
concerns about outdoor advertising.
The advertising industry, as well as specific industry sectors such as
alcohol and food producers, was helpful in outlining to the Committee the
self-regulatory system that applies to advertising and the various
industry-initiated schemes that aim to bolster self-regulation. These
stakeholders are keen to demonstrate that self-regulation is effective and that
the status quo should remain unchanged.
On the other hand, the Committee heard from a number of passionate
individuals and advocacy groups who object to the content and unavoidable
nature of outdoor advertising on a number of grounds. Many parents are
concerned that their children are exposed to sexualised images and messages
that they are not mature enough to digest. Many women in particular are angered
by the prevalence of sexual objectification in advertising images, and the
messages that these send in the public space. The Committee finds it difficult
to see how such images can ever be in the public interest.
Groups advocating for measures to reduce rates of obesity, especially in
children, are displeased that outdoor food advertising is counteracting public
health campaigns. Similarly, organisations that educate the public on the
potential negative impacts of inappropriate alcohol intake are incensed by
outdoor advertising that appears to target young people.
The Committee concluded that there are significant concerns about the
content and volume of advertising that appears in public. However, the
self-regulatory system has its advantages and is not unworkable. The Committee conclude
that more rigour and leadership should be incorporated to strengthen the system
and address the concerns specific to outdoor advertising.
The advertising self-regulatory system should formally acknowledge that
outdoor advertising constitutes a unique medium with certain characteristics
that require additional attention. A code of practice for outdoor advertising
is needed for the industry to demonstrate this recognition.
Furthermore, a more proactive Advertising Standards Bureau is needed to
provide more comprehensive oversight of outdoor advertising in the form of a
copy advice service—to eliminate blatantly unacceptable advertising copy from
being produced—and a regular monitoring role.
The Committee notes that the industry does act to deflect criticisms of
shortcomings in the self-regulatory system, but expects to see more proactive
behaviour that anticipates changes in the public mood or possible implications
of technological advancements in the outdoor advertising medium. The Committee
believes that the advertising industry has had many chances to prove that
self-regulation works, and asserts that this is the last chance.
The Committee considers that the Government has a responsibility to
regularly revisit this issue as it is a matter of public concern that affects
all of us as we occupy, utilise, meet in, enjoy and travel through our