Self-appointed alcohol ad watchdog upholds 9 in 10 cases; AANA slams ‘PR stunt’ for falsely generating complaints

The Alcohol Advertising Review Board, an action group set up by health campaigners frustrated with the current alcohol advertising self-regulation system, has published its latest round of determinations.

Of 94 complaints reviewed from August 2012 to date, just eight cases were cleared of any wrongdoing by the body, which was set up by the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Cancer Council WA last year.

This means that, by the AARB‘s reckoning, roughly nine in ten booze ads that prompt complaints are in some way inappropriate.

The AARB has prompted a stern response from the Australian Association of National Advertisers, which has labelled the Perth-based lobby group “a PR stunt” with no ability to resolve complaints.

The AANA has also accused the AARB of falsely generating complaints, by calling on its own supporters to complain anonymously.

All types of alcohol advertisers were deemed guilty in the latest AARB findings – retailers, pubs and bars such as Liquorland and Strike Bowling Bar, mainstream beer brands VB and Carlton, as well as more niche brands such as Mishka Vodka.

Breaches – which the AARB claims deviated from the ad industry’s own codes on booze ads – were made in all media, from websites, outdoor, print and TV to packaging, product placement and event sponsorship.

In response to the AARB’s findings, the AANA sent the following response to Mumbrella:

There is no need for greater regulation of alcohol advertising as there are already a number of regulatory protections in place in terms of messaging and placement of alcohol advertising.

The current self-regulatory system is effective and is underpinned by a responsive and transparent complaints handling system. It is a system that delivers responses to consumer complainants within 30 days and covers all forms of advertising, including new media.

The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) is co-regulatory with a government representative on the management committee. ABAC’s independent adjudication panel is led by former Attorney General Professor the Hon Michael Lavarch, and is run at arm’s length from the industry.

It should be noted that alcohol advertisements have to be approved against the Code before they go to market, by an independent pre-vetter.

The low level of consumer complaints about alcohol advertising demonstrates the system is delivering for the public, this is supported by the Advertising Standards Bureau records which show that alcohol advertising accounts for just 3.78% of all complaints.

In contrast, the AARB is committed to tearing down the current system and clearly believes that the end justifies the means. AARB used its own networks and fellow travellers to generate anonymous complaints and it then adjudicated on the same complaints.

The AARB system set itself up as legislator, plaintiff, judge and jury.  It developed its own self-serving codes without any community consultation and is adjudicating complaints from within its own ranks. They claimed it was an “independent alternative” to the current advertising complaints system, it is neither independent nor an alternative.  It is simply a PR stunt with no ability whatsoever to resolve complaints.

The AARB was also criticised by the Ad Standards Bureau for lacking authority in a story on Mumbrella last August. The ASB has called the AARB a self-appointed ad review board with zero authority.

The AARB had not responded to Mumbrella at press time.


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