Grill’d campaign found in breach of Ad Standards for violence and sexuality

This article mentions sexual assault and pedophilia. If you or someone you care about needs support, please contact 1800 RESPECT at 1800 737 732. In an emergency, call 000.

Ad Standards has found that a Grill’d campaign, created by The Monkeys, was in breach of Section 2.3 of the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics, advertising shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised, and Section 2.4 of the AANA Code of Ethics, advertising shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.

There were also complaints under the AANA’s Food and Beverage Code Section 2.1, AANA Advertising to Children’s Code Sections 2.4 and 2.6 and AANA Environmental Code Section 2 which were found not to be in breach.

The spot in question that has been found to be in breach is titled ‘Grill’d vs Plastic Toys‘, and can be seen below.

In the spot, a figure which resembles McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald is seen attempting to sell plastic toys to children, only to be thwarted by a superhero burger. The spot ends in the line: “He’s a righteous burger guy”.

One of the complaints to Ad Standards stated: “This ad portrayed flashing and also encourages children to possess and use knives and violence against each other. Totally inappropriate because it was aired at a time that children would be viewing.”

Another complaint read: “I know the brand Grill’d and I’m pretty sickened by this style of advertising which is a dig at McDonald’s, but it’s sexually focused at children. Why? I find it so inappropriate, not only in this day and age but at any stage of any era given society’s distaste of sexual violence against children.”

Another said: “The ad suggests that two children are in the process of being sexually assaulted. This is offensive and upsetting for various reasons, including being deeply disturbing to unsuspecting sexual assault victims watching the ad. It also downplays the seriousness of crimes of exposure/flashing.”

In an additional set of complaints to Ad Standards, one complaint read: “Displaying an advertisement that makes fun of a Ronald McDonald-type person in a trench coat creeping up to two children who are alone in an alley is extremely inappropriate for children to view and encourages them to minimise the danger of sexual assault and pedophilia by unknown adult.”

In its initial response to the complaints under Section 2.3, the advertiser Grill’d said: “We note that the advertisement depicts some forms of violence in a mild animated form. The cartoon nature of the violence is consistent with animated superhero programs and is justifiable in the context of the product being advertised in this fashion. We note that the superhero persona of the burger is consistent with the messaging of the advertisement, being a “righteous” figure who combats against perceived “evils” in the industry (in this case, offering plastic toys to children as an enticement to purchase fast food products).”

For the complaints under Section 2.4, the advertiser argued: “We note this provision has been raised due to the depiction of the clown opening up his coat to the children. We note however that the very next shot in the sequence clarifies that the clown is fully clothed underneath and is showing toys to the children. On this basis, we note it is clear to the audience that there is nothing sexual about this scene at all.”

In terms of Section 2.3, a majority of The Ad Standards Community Panel (the panel) found that: “The opening scene of the advertisement, where the children were cornered in the alley and the clown opens his trench coat, was menacing and suggestive of sexualised violence. The Panel considered that even though the moment was resolved as being the clown showing the children toys in his coat, the suggestion of sexual violence at the start of the advertisement was extremely inappropriate in an advertisement for burgers.”

The panel determined that the advertisement “did contain violence, and that this violence was not justifiable in the context of advertising a burger chain”.

For Section 2.4, the panel did not find that the advertisement depicted sex, however, it found that it did depict both sex and suggested nudity, as “the clown is pinned to the wall his pants fall down so that he is exposed to the children, although the clown’s genitals are hidden by the flag on the top of one child’s burger”.

In terms of those depictions being treated with sensitivity, a majority of the panel found that: “Most members of the community would consider the suggestion of sexualised violence aimed towards children to be inappropriate, even if the situation had been resolved. The panel considered that the scenes would shock and upset viewers and did not treat the issue of sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience. The panel noted the scene where the clown’s pants fall down and he appears to be exposed to the children and considered this scene further adds to the inappropriate sexual nature of the advertisement.”

In response, Grill’d stated that it will modify the advertisement to take into account the panel’s concerns.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.