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Ad watchdog bans Marriage Alliance Twitter post featuring woman with rainbow noose

The Ad Standards Board has banned a controversial social media ad suggesting same-sex marriage will increase suicide because people who are against it will be bullied over their views if it becomes law.

The image, which depicted a woman with a rainbow noose around her neck, was posted to the Twitter feed of Australian anti-gay-marriage group Marriage Alliance  in early February and was accompanied by text that read “same sex marriage increases PC bullying in the workplace”.

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Complaints against the social media post argued it is “totally inappropriate and against community standards to depict suicide in an advertisement”.

“The depiction of a person seemingly about to commit suicide by a specific method, as is done in this advertisement, is highly distressing for friends and relatives of people who have died by suicide and people with a past history of suicidal ideation,” a complaint said.

Another complaint said: “The cause being promoted by the advertisement, opposition to marriage equality, is in no way related to anti-suicide advocacy in such a way that could justify the depiction of a woman about to hang herself. Additionally, anti-suicide organisations note that depictions of means of suicide are highly likely to be harmful.”

In response to the complaints, Marriage Alliance questioned the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Bureau to assess the complaints as they argued it falls under the exclusion of “political advertising”.

The ASB defines political advertising as: “Political advertising is advertising that attempts to influence or comment upon a matter which is currently the subject of extensive political debate.”

Marriage Alliance told the ASB: “You will be aware that our organisation is preparing for, and engaging in the preliminary stages of a political campaign concerning, inter alia, the proposed alterations to the definition of “marriage” and “family” throughout the Commonwealth.

“This is a highly contentious political debate that has attracted a great deal of press and commentary. On the most recent advice received from the Australian Electoral Commission, as a “Third Party Campaigner” we may be subject to the mandatory reporting provisions of the Australian Electoral Act 1918 (Cth).

“Accordingly, it is our view that our communications fall under the exclusion of “political advertising” as per the information on your website. We therefore question the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Bureau in this matter but have decided to provide this response as a sign of good faith, on a without prejudice and no admissions basis, and with all rights reserved.”

In defence of the image, Marriage Alliance argued it was a “figurative dramatisation of the pressures that employees have felt as a result of politically correct thought and speech policing in the work environment.

“The symbolism in the image uses visual metaphor and analogy to convey meaning. This meaning is reinforced and highlighted by way of the explicit statement contained in the embedded text.”

The Ad Standards Board accepted Marriage Alliance’s argument the ad was political advertising and asserted it would limit its consideration of the complaint to the image used and not to the accompanying text or political viewpoint.

The board noted that it was not clear in the image whether the woman has had the noose placed around her neck by someone else or by her own hands.

It was the board’s view that regardless of whether the image is suggestive or suicide or not, the placement of a noose is a graphic depiction of an activity which leads to serious harm or death.

The board said a realistic image of a woman with a noose around her neck is a depiction of a consequence of bullying which is extreme and is a depiction of violence which is not justifiable in the content of the product or service advertised.

The complaint was upheld.

Marriage Alliance has not provided a response to the board’s determination however the ASB noted the Twitter post is no longer available on the organisation’s Twitter feed.

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