15 April 2020
A decision last month by the Ad Standards Community Panel (Panel) has again confirmed that, when it comes to the application of community standards on health and safety, every detail matters and the Panel has a low tolerance of content which depicts conduct that appears to breach Australian laws.
The 15-second YouTube advertisement by the Brisbane City Council (BCC) was designed to promote the use and advantages of five new green bridges in the BCC area, and featured a cyclist riding across a bridge together with pedestrians. The cyclist was wearing a helmet and using a designated lane. The ad used an existing bridge for filming purposes but was actually intended to promote new bridges which had not been built yet, with the voiceover stating “We’re getting five new green bridges right across Brisbane, taking cars off the road, and getting you moving”. As such, steps were taken by BCC to obscure the specific location and provide a generic bridge experience.
A complaint was received from a consumer familiar with the bridge in question on the following points, which were said to raise safety concerns:
In response to the complaint, the advertiser noted that the ad was intended to represent a generic bridge rather than a specific location, was filmed under controlled conditions, and that the omission of the bell was an oversight and had been corrected on other media where the image was featured, but not the YouTube ad.
Prevailing community standards on health and safety
In assessing the ad and complaint, the Panel considered the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics (Code), which forms part of the self-regulatory framework adopted by the advertising industry to encourage honesty, accuracy, fairness and social responsibility in advertising.
In particular, the Panel considered section 2.6 of the Code which provides that “Advertising or Marketing Communication shall not depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety”. There is no single test for prevailing community standards – defined as those standards “determined by the Ad Standards Community Panel as those prevailing at the relevant time” – they evolve constantly and differ depending on the subject matter.
Health and safety is a common issue in advertising complaints, and featured in six of Ad Standard’s 10 most complained about ads of the decade.
The Panel decision
In reaching its decision, the Panel noted that BCC had taken steps to anonymise the bridge location, that there were no visible lines to indicate it was a divided bikeway, and that the interactions between the cyclist and pedestrians appeared to be slow and safe. On this basis, and noting that the ad was for future bridges and not intended to represent current bridge conditions, the Panel determined there was no suggestion that the cyclist or pedestrians were in breach of any rules or that their conduct was inconsistent with prevailing community standards on health and safety.
However, the Panel took a stricter view about the absence of the bike bell. While recognising it was an accidental oversight, the Panel noted the omission of the bell had not been corrected on the YouTube ad and that the use of a bell was “an important safety feature of a bicycle to warn pedestrians of the cyclist’s approach”. The Panel also noted the application of Queensland Road rules which require bikes to have a bell, horn or equivalent warning device when used in a road-related area, a point which was noted on the BCC’s own website.
The Panel accordingly determined that the depiction of a cyclist riding a bicycle without a bell on a road was conduct contrary to prevailing community standards on bike safety, and was therefore in breach of section 2.6 of the Code and the complaint was upheld. BCC has since discontinued using the ad and has removed it from the BCC website and from YouTube.
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