Ad association hits back at ‘baseless and inaccurate’ Tankard Reist sexploitation piece

The Australian Association of National Advertisers has described an opinion piece written by Melinda Tankard Reist, in which the author claims industy self regulation has failed to stop the objectification of women and the sexualisation of children, as “baseless and inaccurate”.

The AANA’s response, written by CEO Scott McClellan, reads:

The recent guest post by Melinda Tankard Reist, “Stop making sex objects of women and kids”, makes baseless and inaccurate claims about the advertising self-regulatory system.

The fact is, much to the frustration of its critics, the AANA self-regulatory system is working well and should continue.  A recent parliamentary inquiry acknowledged this fact and recommended that the self-regulatory system should continue along with the complaints mechanism which underpins it.

The AANA Codes which form the basis of the self-regulatory system are technology and platform neutral and apply across the board to all media and all advertisers. The self-regulatory system is underpinned by a robust and transparent complaints handling system, adjudicated by the independent Advertising Standards Board (ASB).  The complaints process has a high level of consumer awareness and is cross promoted through many regulators’ and industry websites, such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the ACCC.

The claim of “inadequate monitoring” is without support. The self-regulatory system is under continuous review with reference to consumer complaints and parliamentary inquiries.

An example of the responsiveness of the AANA self-regulatory system to community concern, is the review of the AANA Code for Advertising and Marketing Communication to Children. The review included an extensive consultation process, with input from community and parent groups. Significant amendments were made to the Code in response to growing community concerns about sexualisation of children in the media, including a direct prohibition against the sexualisation of children and a ban on the use of sexual imagery in advertising targeted at children. AANA also expanded the definition of ‘advertising’ to capture other forms of ‘marketing communication’, so that direct-to-consumer marketing activity, such as product websites or sampling activity targeted primarily at children, can now be subject to the Code.

In October 2009, AANA further published practical guidance for advertisers and marketers: Practice Guide – Managing Images of Children and Young People, which expressly stipulates that “advertisers/marketers must respect the integrity of children and young people by taking action appropriate to their age and maturity to protect them from ill-treatment and exploitation, including sexual exploitation.“

The self-regulatory system applies in the outdoor space and is working well to meet community expectations as reflected in the complaints figures for that medium. In 2010 there were some 33 million national ads across all media (this does not include ads on regional/local media). On average, the ASB considers complaints about approximately 600 ads per year, about 0.0018% of all national ads (as monitored by Nielsen). Of the 600 considered by the ASB, around 80 or 13.3% (of the 600) were upheld. The total upheld complaints out of the total number of ads is very low, at around 0.00024%.

Claims that the ASB is powerless to remove advertisements is also without merit. Advertisers demonstrate a high level of compliance with decisions of the ASB through the withdrawal of advertisements which are found in breach of AANA Codes.

Advertisers’ commitment to the self-regulatory system is also demonstrated through programs of education and promotion conducted by the AANA and its industry partners.

AANA encourages the industry and members of the public to engage with the AANA Advertising and Marketing Codes and Practice Guides to help advertisers in delivering a responsible and effective self-regulatory framework.


  1. Patrick
    4 Nov 11
    4:33 pm

  2. Whereas MTR’s piece was incoherent, much like radio station MTR, SM’s rebuttal is eminently digestible, much like radio station 2SM.

  3. Helen Pringle
    5 Nov 11
    9:29 pm

  4. It is a long time since i have heard someone defend a piece because it is like 2SM! Ah, that would be home on the John Laws range, where never is heard an intelligent word…

  5. Kate
    5 Nov 11
    10:07 pm

  6. “a ban on the use of sexual imagery targeted at children” <= interesting wording here. This means that condom ads at bus stops where the man and woman are covered only in body paint, billboards for strip clubs in public places which include websites for those clubs (essentially porn sites with only 'tick this box' age verification) sexpo billboards are all allowed because they aren't 'targeted' at children. Nice loophole you allowed for yourselves. AANA when we are talking about outdoor ads, the target is 'everyone.' self regulation is a joke.

  7. Caitlin
    5 Nov 11
    11:11 pm

  8. Big surprise, the Ad association rejects claims that self-regulation is a giant failure.

    Scott McLellan claims there are guidelines in place to protect children. I would love for him to explain to me how these work when my children are exposed to huge sexualised billboards. Billboards and other outdoor advertising are there for the purpose of being seen and attracting attention. But it seems all an advertiser has to do is say “This highly sexualised billboard ad is not directly targeting children”. Maybe I’ll tell that to my five year old next time he asks about one.

    Self regulation is not working. Even if complaints are upheld, the offending ad has typically already been up for a couple of months.

  9. Nicole
    6 Nov 11
    4:06 pm

  10. “The self-regulatory system applies in the outdoor space and is working well to meet community expectations as reflected in the complaints figures for that medium.”

    Either that, or most people have resigned themselves to having their public space plastered with ads and don’t realise they have to take proactive steps to complain about them.

    But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the AANA is leaping to positively spin the system that lets its members essentially get away with anything that they want.

  11. SL
    7 Nov 11
    2:45 pm

  12. @Kate

    You are confusing target and audience. In the outdoor space, everyone that is exposed to the medium is part of the audience, but the TARGET is something that the advertiser can specify relative to their product offering. I’m not disagreeing with you, because children do fall into the audience of such billboards/posters that are designed to target an older cohort. But you must not get the two confused.

    Similar to adult only programming slots on TV, nothing is to stop kids from staying up late and watching it anyways, but it is targeted to adults.

    Damned if we do, damned if we don’t? It’s not a perfect world…

  13. Anonymous
    8 Nov 11
    12:30 am

  14. If this regulation is so effective, why does the current advertising climate feel so seedy and cheap? Why do I feel so disgusted out by American Apparel ads and why do I have to think about how on earth I’m going to protect my future kids from [formerly community] space that is now used to sell messages that aren’t positive/appropriate?

    Come on now and pull up your socks. There are a lot of progressive thinkers feeling pretty ill right now. Change gears… we’re meant to be moving away from discrimination, not toward. We’re meant to be celebrating women’s contributions, not undermining them. We’re meant to be looking after our kids, not showering them with adult issues and ideas.