Ad Standards complaints for 2021 jump 33% on previous year

Adland’s self-regulatory body, Ad Standards has released its complaints figures from 2021, with the total number of complaints growing 33% on the previous year, following several years of decline since 2018.

According to the organisation’s 2021 Review of Operations report, sex, sexuality and nudity was the top concern dominating complaints to Ad Standards, despite having fallen slightly to 21.31% of all complaints, compared to 32% in 2020.

Coming in a close second was health and safety, which had doubled on the previous year up to 16.5%, largely as a result of the year’s most complained about ad.

The ad in questions, which topped the most complained about ads for 2021 with 285 complaints, was a spot from Crazy Domain’s. The ad was found in breach of Section 2.6 – Health and Safety of the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code Of Ethics for depicting ‘illegal, unhygienic behaviour’ in public urination. Aired in 15 and 30 second spots, the campaign showed a group of men on a night out, following one as he breaks away from the group and publicly urinates on a shop front, before a message appears on the screen: “The real world sucks for business. You’re better off online.”

Upheld complaints against Wisr also added to the jump in health and safety related complaints, with the lending services being found to have breached Section 2.6 of the Code for its depiction of a man standing behind a toaster with a fork in his hand. A voice over suggests he used the “smart part” of his brain to make a “good decision”, rather than using a fork to retrieve the burnt crumpet.

Overall, three quarters of complaints considered by the Community Panel in 2021 fell under the the Code of Ethics, with the remaining quarter falling under other codes. Notably, while still relatively low, complaints to the Environmental Claims Code are rising year on year and also tripled in 2021 to 1.37%, versus 00.45% in 2020.

In terms of the mediums attracting the most complaints, spots aired on free-to-air television made up almost two thirds, however this was a decline on previous years, dropping from 71% in 2019 and 66% in 2020.

The number of complaints on social media continues to grow, constituting over 8% of complaints in 2021, with Instagram being the most complain about platform, followed by Facebook.

Breaking down the demographics of those who make complaints to Ad Standards, the majority all complaints were made in the Eastern states, with 33.63% originating from NSW, 25.43% from Victoria and 18.25% from Queensland.

In terms of gender, nearly 60% of complaints were lodged by females, with 37% having been made by males, and the remaining complaints either made by couples or people who had not specified their gender.

Looking at age, approximately three quarters of complaints were made by people over 40 years of age, with 30.4% of total complaints being made by people between 40 to 54 years of age. A further 21.07% of complaints were made by people in the 55 to 65 age bracket, with 18.12% being attributed to those between 30 and 39 years.

While 4,675 total complaints were received, less than one quarter of these were linked to cases considered by the Community Panel in 2021, with a further 37% of complaints pertaining to matters outside of the Ad Standards jurisdiction, such as complaints about political ads or issues regarding products or services. 15% of complaints were about ads that had already been considered within a five year period, and a further 24% of complaints were processed as raising issues that have been consistently dismissed by the Community Panel, such as the use of mild swear words.

Of the Review, AANA chair Martin Brown said: “Throughout 2021 and against the backdrop of a global pandemic, Ad Standards has continued to provide the community with an easy and effective way to express concerns about advertising content. This independent function is a key pillar of Australia’s advertising self-regulatory system.”

He also laid out plans for a comprehensive review of both the Children’s Advertising Code and the Environmental Claims Code during 2022 to “ensure they continue to be fit for purpose”.

Richard Bean, executive director of Ad Standards said: “In 2021, there was a notable increase in complaints about advertising content compared with 2020. While this is no doubt a result of the increase in campaign activity and advertising spend – a record $8.6bn as reported through the Standard Media Index (SMI) – it may also reflect broad community sentiment”


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