Aug 9, 2012

Naming and shaming irresponsible alcohol advertisers

The Australian Association of National Advertisers

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

The Australian Association of National Advertisers recently called for the disbandment of what it called “the farce” of the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB), citing its lack of action.

The AARB, readers may remember, was launched earlier this year, by the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Cancer Council WA, to highlight the failures of industry self-regulation.

The advertising industry seems to have jumped the gun. The AARB recently released this report detailing the 63 complaints received in its first three months of operation – including the placement of alcohol ads near schools.

The report commends several alcohol advertisers for engaging with the AARB process, but notes that the following companies have refused to do so:

  • Brown-Forman Australia
  • Beam Global Australia
  • Campari Australia
  • Diageo Australia
  • Foster’s Group Limited (Carlton United Brewers)
  • Lion
  • Some Young Punks Wine
  • Suntory Australia
  • The Bottle-O ‘Luckies Liquor’
  • Woolworths Limited.

Perhaps they will have to rethink this head-in-the-sand strategy; this won’t be the last they hear from the AARB, reports Rebecca Johnson, Policy Advisor, Cancer Council Western Australia.


Acting on irresponsible alcohol advertising

Rebecca Johnson writes:

The launch of the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB), the innovative and independent answer to alcohol advertising self-regulation, was met with an avalanche of media coverage this March.

Professor Fiona Stanley, the Chair of the AARB, indicated at the launch that the AARB was an idea whose time had undoubtedly come: “The community and parents are rightly concerned at the tsunami of alcohol promotion to which our children are exposed.  We are seeing increasing numbers of children drinking to get drunk – it’s time to act.”

Action is AARB’s middle name.

Last week, AARB, which is supported by the McCusker Centre for Action of Alcohol and Youth and the Cancer Council of Western Australia, released the determinations it has made since launch and its first report.

It has been an immensely busy quarter; the AARB received a total of 63 complaints about 53 ads – that’s a complaint every single weekday since launch.

Of the 44 that could be considered, the AARB Panel upheld 25 complaints in full and 17 in part, and dismissed 2.  During the same time period, the industry-sponsored self-regulatory scheme made determinations on just 9 complaints.

Complaints to AARB came from all around Australia and reflected the true extent to which the community is drowning in booze propaganda.

People complained about an extensive array of promotion activities: ads on TV, sports sponsorship, ads at concerts and cinemas, naming and packaging of products, outdoor ads near schools and playgrounds, public transport ads, and internet advertisements.

They complained about ads that promoted alcohol using sex, sporting prowess, and weight loss, and particularly about ads that seemed to be carefully shaped and placed to appeal to young audiences.

In short, the complaints reveal the vast collection of community concerns about alcohol advertising in Australia.

AARB acknowledges and responds to those concerns.  To handle the inundation of advertising complaints, the AARB has engaged nearly seventy AARB Panellists from a range of professions including public health, research medicine, law, education and marketing.  The Panellists have delivered considered, reasonable determinations on each complaint that has been put to them, independent of alcohol industry influence.

In the name of procedural fairness, AARB notifies advertisers of complaints and invites them to participate in the review process.  Some chose to engage with AARB, recognizing that AARB – and the important and necessary debate about alcohol advertising regulation – are not going to go away.

Some acted commendably, such as Bacardi Lion, which immediately removed its offending advertisement from the playground bus shelter where it had been placed.

Others refused to engage, defending their professed prerogative to run booze ads at times and in places where children and young people are exposed.

AARB now offers those advertisers that blatantly disregard community concern about their advertising practices up to the court of public opinion.

Find AARB’s first quarter of hard work – the ads, the advertisers, the complaints and the determinations – at  It’ll rattle some cages, but the AARB means business.  It’s here to stay.

• Rebecca Johnson is Policy Advisor, Cancer Council Western Australia




Leave a comment

4 thoughts on “Naming and shaming irresponsible alcohol advertisers

  1. Julia Stafford

    In response to Alina Bain’s comment:

    It’s great to hear from AANA on this issue and heartening that they were so eager to see what the Alcohol Advertising Review Board had to say. It appears the AARB may have pinched a nerve.

    It is no secret that organisations involved with the AARB – the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, the Cancer Council Western Australia and other health groups – believe that there is a need for strong, independent, legislated controls on alcohol advertising to ensure it is socially responsible and that young people’s exposure to alcohol promotion is minimised. The AANA may see this as “tearing down the current system”, but they and their members clearly have an interest in promoting self-regulation.

    The AARB content code described by Ms Bain as “self-serving” was derived from the alcohol and advertising industries’ own endorsed codes from Australia and elsewhere. One would have thought this code would have the industry’s blessing, as its key components were theirs to begin with!

    I find it puzzling that Ms Bain interprets the 3.78% figure to mean that the Advertising Standards Bureau is “delivering for the public”. Could it be that few people even know the Advertising Standards Bureau exists? Could it also be that people have legitimate concerns about how their complaints could be effectively addressed by a self-regulatory system?

    For those who prefer to have their complaints about alcohol advertising reviewed by people and processes independent of the alcohol and advertising industries, they will find such a service at

    Julia Stafford, McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth

  2. Melissa Sweet

    PS from Melissa

    The comment about the AANA appearing to have “jumped the gun” was made by me in the introduction – and not by Rebecca Johnson.

    Readers may also be interested in this article, saying that Bacardi Lion has cooperated with the AARB, removing a bus stop ad for Bacardi’s Eristoff Vodka brand that was near a children’s playground.

  3. Melissa Sweet

    The Australian Association of National Advertisers asked for this response to be posted:

    Response from Alina Bain, Acting CEO of the AANA to Crikey’s blog: ‘Naming and shaming irresponsible alcohol advertisers’ by Rebecca Johnson, Policy Advisor, Cancer Council WA, 9 August 2012

    In response to Rebecca Johnson’s claim that the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) “jumped the gun” in calling for the “disbandment” of the Alcohol Advertising Review Boards (AARB), the AANA did not jump the gun it was simply stating the fact that AARB failed to deliver what it had promised when it had promised.

    Ms Johnson also states that the AARB received in its first three months 63 complaints. What is not disclosed is that the AARB is committed to tearing down the current system and clearly believes that the end justifies the means. It used its own networks and fellow travellers to generate anonymous complaints. AARB 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 – when they launched the AARB they misled the public as to its true purpose. 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 current self-regulatory system is effective and is underpinned by a responsive and transparent complaints handling system, unlike the AARB. It is a system that delivers responses to consumer complainants within 30 days and covers all forms of advertising, including new media.

    Readers may actually find it interesting that Advertising Standards Bureau records show that alcohol advertising accounts for just 3.78% of all complaints. The low level of consumer complaints about alcohol advertising demonstrates the system is delivering for the public.

  4. Margo

    Hang in there, guys. I have just seen the news that one of this year’s sponsors of the Canberra Raiders NRL team will be ‘Local Liquor’, whose name will be emblazoned on the players’ shorts. Alcohol sponsorship advertising will be the next big battle and is likely to be much more difficult than it was for tobacco.

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