Since we reported on Sexpo’s win against an Advertising Standards Board (ASB) complaint in our last e news bulletin, more has transpired on this front.

Adultshop.com Ltd had a good win over the forces of censorship in October who tried to shut down their latest a radio ad. Listeners were told that if they spent more than $40 they would receive a “free (gasp) toy!”

The complainant/s (yes, there was more than one adding to the impression that this was an organised complaint) main issue was that the ad and the sexual gasps were inappropriate for children to hear. One of them said it was inappropriate to hear a woman appearing to orgasm ‘”during the middle of the day”. That said more about the complainant’s sexual timetable than anything else. Another person said they felt “ambushed” by hearing the ad on “public (sic) radio” station. A common theme amongst religious complainants is that they feel squeamish in having to explain sexual concepts to others around them and especially children.

Adultshop.com defended itself by saying, “In this particular commercial, which was an offer to receive a surprise gift, the actress sounded ‘surprised’ as she reacted to receiving an unexpected gift. The ad deliberately avoids overt reference to anything sex-related. Intermittent higher-pitched speaking only becomes sexual in the theatre of the mature minded, not an adolescent. To suggest that the sounds are ‘having an orgasm’ is interpreted by each individual’s imagination. It is indeed, as mentioned above, for the speaker to sound ‘surprised’ by receiving a free gift. The concept of a radio commercial on media outlets is to engage listeners with music and colour, then intermittently play sponsored messages. This is not an ‘ambush’.”

The ASB’s determination said that the fact that the word ‘sex’ was not used and that the ad had used the term ‘adult toy’ was important in dismissing the complaint – which by the way, was similar to one raised against Adulthshop.com in 2013. The ASB said that the pitch of the woman’s voice did fluctuate throughout the advertisement but there could be any number of reasons for this, for example stepping in to cold water, or being ticked by someone. They considered that any sexual connotation was unlikely to be understood by children. The Board considered that the advertisement did treat the issues of sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant broad audience, which would include children. The ASB also said it used a determination on a Sexyland radio ad in 2013 to dismiss the Adultshop.com complaint.

David Jones Underwear Advertisement

The ASB also recently dealt with a David Jones ad for young women’s underwear, which has ramifications for the adults only industry – specifically around the issue of age.

The ad showed a group of young women/girls at a slumber party – basically showing off their undies. The ASB noted that some of the clothing was shown being altered with scissors and considered that ‘although the result is that more of the model’s body is visible, in the Board’s view, this type of presentation is consistent with fashion shoots. The Board noted that in some scenes we can see the outline of the model’s breasts. The Board noted that her nipples are covered and considered that the level of nudity is not unusual in a fashion context.’

The complainant’s concern was largely around the fact that the models used in the advertisement appeared underage. The Board noted the advertiser’s response that all the models in the advertisement were 18 years or older and considered that most members of the community would agree that the models did not appear to be under the age of 18.

They also found that a depiction of women in underwear, does not of itself amount to sexualised content.

Self-regulation

The ASB is run and funded entirely by industry. Here we have an example of self-regulation around issues of age and sexuality that works well for the advertising world, for industry and for the community – so why shouldn’t it work for classification world as well? This is the same model that works for classification in Japan and a number of other countries so why not here?

Instead what we have is one system of applying community standards and age verification for advertising and one for Customs (Border Force) and the Australia Classification Board. The latter also costs the taxpayer some millions of dollars each year. If the government were to accept the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission we would see classification issues in Australia move much closer to the ABS model.

Celebrating 10 years in the job as CEO of the ABS, Fiona Jolly issued a media release in October extolling the benefits of a self-regulatory scheme for regulating advertising. ‘We are now fortunate to be in the position to take a leadership role within our Asia Pacific Region’, she said. ‘Promoting self-regulation growth in the region improves ASB’s reputation which benefits the Australian system and thereby Australian businesses.

She also said she was looking forward to the challenges to come, which included a recently announced change to the ABS’ Code of Ethics, which will see the definition of advertising and marketing communications expand to include public relations material.

So where does this stop and what will be the demarcation lines that are drawn up between PR material and ‘entertainment’ media? The mind boggles. So does the public purse and industry’s right to have uniform standards applied to all media by the Australian government.

Religion Exempts Itself From Its Own Advertising Standards.

The very same people who brought us the ‘Jesus Loves You’ and ‘You Can’t Hold Hands with God When You’re Masturbating’ billboard campaigns have been successful in persuading one of the largest outdoor advertising companies, APN, to ban four billboards with anti-religious messages on them.

The billboards satirised Christian communion wafers and said people should be able to flush the Koran down the toilet without fear of violent reprisal.

The ads were to be posted in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to promote atheist and American author Sam Harris, who is touring in January. Promoters had planned to run quotes from the top-selling author’s books pasted on black billboards.

It’s extraordinary that Christian advertisers don’t see that their billboards are more morally repugnant than those of the atheists or any adult industry billboards. Slogans that refer to ‘virgin birth’, or ‘creation theory’ are deeply offensive to many intelligent people because they demand belief in total bullshit at the expense of going to hell and all that that entails. If Christians have trouble explaining what Sexpo is to their kids when they see a billboard for the show, how do they think non religious people feel when their kids ask, ‘Mummy, what’s a virgin Mary’? Or ‘Daddy….how come the world was made in seven days’?

In 2011 Christian advertisers in the US were allowed to put up 50 billboards announcing that ‘Jesus is coming on May 21, 2011’.

The advertisers, WeCanKnow.com, claimed that the billboards made the statement about Christ’s return based on analysis of scripture and biblical genealogy. “The Bible teaches that Christ is returning on May 21 and we want to encourage people to go to Scripture and investigate for themselves,” Allison Warden said. “All information in the Bible points to this date. God is going to be saving people right up until the last moment.”

The billboards showed three wise men on camels and the star of Bethlehem with the message “He is coming again” and were also placed in Nashville, Detroit and Omaha.

Against a billboard for Sexpo or Sexyland, that says come to our show or shop for a good time, the religious message is clearly the most offensive. It posits that otherwise intelligent people should find an obscure reference in a 2,000 year old text reason to re organise their life because a person dead for 2,000 years will turn up again as an adult man and transform their lives. Furthermore, it undermines the pursuit of truth in advertising. When corporations can hauled over the coals by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), who is ensuring that religious organisations are held to the same standards?