The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), facing increasing backlash from the community, have launched their latest virtue signaling attempt, announcing that they are tightening” their code of ethics to prevent negative gender stereotyping. 

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be a joke. 

With no penalties and no mechanism to enforce their decisions based on community standards, advertisers who choose to ignore their decisions do so with immunity, lapping up any media coverage they get from complaints against them, and laugh all the way to the bank.  

The AANA established their self-regulatory system in 1997, and the system is administered by Ad Standards.  

You don’t have to look past retailers such as Honey Birdette to discover how wholly inadequate their system is – and continues to be, in addressing damaging stereotypical and sexist advertising. Since their establishment, this store has had 26 complaints against 26 of their advertising campaigns – this equates to roughly 1 per month – probably the average length of any advertising campaign. 13 of these complaints have been upheld by Ad Standards for contravening community standards and sexualizing women and children, making shopping centres feel like unsafe places for more than half our population.  

But nothing has happened, nothing is done, and Honey Birdette continue to ignore Ad Standards with immunity.  

In 2015 Ad Standards upheld a complaint against a billboard advertising a scantily clad woman saying “I’m waiting”. The billboard is still up in 2018.  

In the words of the AANA chief executive John Broome, “Advertising contributes to cultural attitudes and there is a social imperative to positively effect change in the way people are portrayed”. 

If the AANA truly wants to enforce responsible advertising they must go further than warning Ad agencies that “they will be reprimanded”. The problem has been allowed to continue despite numerous state and federal inquiries and recommendations. 

Australia’s self-regulation in advertising has clearly failed. Offenders have had long enough to understand their corporate responsibility. Penalties must be introduced. 

Everything else is merely virtue signaling.