AANA cracks down on stereotypes and sexualised imagery in updated code of ethics

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) has revealed its updated code of ethics, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory code, following a review that was launched in September last year.

Major updates to the code include restrictions on undue focus on the male or female anatomy, unless it is relevant to the product being advertised, the use of sexualised imagery or graphic violence where children are likely to view it, and avoiding harmful gender stereotyping.

The code has been under review since September last year

The new code will take effect in February 2021 and will be applied by the Ad Standards Community Panel when addressing complaints made by the public about advertising content.

The AANA’s CEO, John Broome, said: “It is very clear from submissions and the Ipsos research that the vast majority of advertising in Australia meets the community’s expectations. However, it is apparent the Code’s Practice Note should be strengthened to lessen the risk of certain advertising appearing, particularly the use of hyper-sexualised imagery that is not relevant to the product and can be easily viewed by children.

“All recent advertising has met community standards in relation to gender portrayal but we are moving to provide more explicit guidance to ensure that a problem doesn’t occur in the future. The Practice Note now explain that harmful gender stereotypes are unacceptable because they can perpetuate unconscious bias and rigid norms of femininity and masculinity that incorrectly shape what it means to be a girl, woman, boy or man.”

The review kicked off with 160 submissions made by members of the public on what they thought was acceptable in advertising. This was combined with commissioned research from Ipsos metropolitan and regional Australia. Together, the AANA found that the community was largely concerned with the sexual appeal, nudity and violence in advertising which reinforced negative gender stereotyping.

Prominent Ad Standards cases in recent years that involved the use of sexualised content and gender stereotypes include Ultra Tune campaigns featuring Charlie Sheen and Pamela Anderson, and an ad from KFC which depicted a woman in a low cut top checking her reflection in a car window without knowing young boys are inside. In each case, complaints were dismissed by the Ad Standards panel.

The industry watchdog also encounters numerous complaints about sexualised content in lingerie brand Honey Birdette’s advertising, which are frequently upheld.

Ipsos’ research into prevailing community standards found that the ‘dumb blonde’ and ‘incompetent dad’ stereotypes are the most damaging and are of greater concern today than they were several years ago.

The new code has also been updated to make the rules surround social media influencers’ paid posts more explicit. Hashtags #ad, #advert or #paidpartnership have been determined as the preferred terms as they are easily understandable by consumers. More vague terms such as #sp, #spon, #gifted or #collab were determined as insufficient.

This comes as the Australian industry cracks down on influencer partnerships. The Australian Influencer Marketing Council released the industry’s first Influencer Marketing Code of Practice in July, driven by the organisation’s three principals of transparency, best-practice and accountability, and industry leadership.

AANA chair, Martin Brown, said regular reviews were critical to reflect shifting community expectations of advertising.

“The AANA is committed to providing an ethical standard that is aligned to contemporary community standards. Community expectations are not static, they do shift over time and that is why we are committed to regular reviews involving public consultation to ensure that we keep pace with expectations,” he said.

“Not only is this key to ensuring advertisers are socially responsible, our research shows that those brands that consumers view as being socially responsible deliver better business outcomes.”

Earlier this month, Ad Standards released its first ruling against an ad under its new rules about body image included in the Code of Ethics in 2018. The code dictates that advertising should not reflect an unrealistic ideal of body shapes or features that cannot be attained by healthy practices. The case regarded a complaint about a slender model displaying lingerie on the Calvin Klein website.

The updated code of ethics comes just a month ahead of the updated AANA food and beverage advertising code. Its review began in May, and the results are expected to be published in October.

In August the board of Ad Standards merged with the board of the AANA to reduce unnecessary costs and complexity in the self-regulatory system.

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