Australia: Advertising standards board determinations – when does violence and bad language go too far?

Last Updated: 16 September 2013
Article by Laura Hartley and Erin McGushin

Looking at trends in determinations made by the Advertising Standard Board (ASB) can give advertisers an understanding of how to prevent a negative determination being made against them and the subsequent negative publicity that results. In our last article on Advertising Standards Board Determinations, we looked at the use of sexual content in advertising and when an advertisement may be considered discriminatory. In this article, we explore ASB determinations in the context of violence, health and safety and bad language for the first half of 2013.

What Does the AANA Code of Ethics (Code) Say About Violence or Health and Safety?

The Code provides that advertising or marketing communications:

  • shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.
  • shall not depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.

Below are points to take on board if your advertisement features violence or touches on health and safety.

A complaint is more likely to be upheld if the use of violence is overly graphic or realistic and if the reaction of the victim is not positive

The ASB upheld complaints about a bus poster for graphic design company RJ Graphics1 which featured an image of a man with glasses on being punched in the face alongside the tagline "Design for impact!". The ASB considered that whilst the presentation was of a slapstick nature, this was overridden by the fact that the punch was realistic and the man's reaction was not positive. Further, the man's attire could be interpreted as "geeky" and a likely interpretation of the ad was that it is acceptable to punch someone based on their appearance. It was therefore found to be in breach of the Code. This determination was contrasted with a previous ASB decision to dismiss complaints about an advertisement featuring a man being slapped in the face with a fish, as here it considered the ad depicted an unreal situation and the man's reaction was positive.


An ad involving a depiction of an unrealistic situation is more likely to have complaints dismissed. Advertisers should also consider whether the advertisement encourages discrimination through its presentation of the victim (and perpetrator).

If Violence is Being Used in an Advertisement, it Should be Relevant to the Product Advertised
In the complaint against RJ Graphics, the ASB also took into account that the depiction of a man being punched was not relevant to the product advertised.


Avoid use of gratuitous violence in your advertisements.

Depictions of suicide are not appropriate

An advertisement for the video game "Dead Island Riptide"2 featured animated imagery involving two characters, under attack by zombies, deliberately causing an explosion leading to their deaths, and also featured a figure hanging by a noose from a palm tree. The ASB found the advertisement to be in breach of the Code. It noted that the depictions were intended to be viewed in the context of the video game advertised, there was a fantasy content and stylised nature to the advertisement and the advertisement was aimed at a mature audience. However, it considered the issue of suicide is a depiction of violence which is not justifiable even in the context of an advertisement for a computer game aimed at adults.


The use of suicide in an advertisement will most likely be in breach of the Code.

The ASB will consider the location of an advertisement featuring violence and will take Into account community concerns

In upholding the complaint against RJ Graphics, the ASB noted that the size and placement of the advertisement on a bus travelling around Sydney increased the impact and meant it was likely to be viewed by children. The ASB also acknowledged the concerns regarding the use of a violent image in an area of the city where actual violence was a real and recent issue.

In finding the "Dead Island Riptide" advertisement contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety, the ASB discussed that the issue of suicide is a very significant community concern, and the use of images strongly suggestive of suicide is not appropriate in the context of a television advertisement for a computer game.


In determining complaints, the ASB will take into account whether the matter is one of community concern, including taking into account current affairs. The placement of advertisements featuring violence in prominent places viewable by children increases the likelihood of a complaint being upheld.

Scenes depicting clearly fantastical situations are not generally considered contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety

A Schweppes advertisement3 featuring people magically tumbling through various landscapes and into a lagoon was found to have a clearly fantastical element and was allowed. Likewise an advertisement for Lipton Ice Tea,4 depicting people socialising, playing cards and dancing at the bottom of a pool, was held to be clearly of a fantasy nature, despite the fact that people were depicted as being able to breathe under water without assistance.

The ASB also considered that an advertisement for Kellogg's Just Right5 featuring an actor moving seamlessly through iconic Australian settings, feeding a crocodile before diving into the water and being immediately found swimming at the Barrier Reef before emerging at Circular Quay, was clearly a fantasy sequence and did not encourage people to dive into water containing crocodiles.


Fantasy sequences and unrealistic situations will not likely be found to encourage behaviour contrary to health and safety.

What Does the Code Say About Bad Language?

The Code provides that advertising or marketing communications shall only use language which is appropriate in the circumstances (including appropriate for the relevant audience and medium). Strong or obscene language shall be avoided.

There have been recent determinations regarding the use of bad language in acronyms.

Certain acronyms may be found in breach whilst others may not

Complaints were made about the use of offensive language in an in-store window promotion for Jay Jays6, which featured the headlines "OMG" and "OMFG". The ASB agreed the term "OMG" could be considered offensive and blasphemous for those of the Christian faith. However the ASB considered that the content was not aggressive, threatening or demeaning, it was an acronym commonly used by older and younger generations, it was not strong or obscene and the use was not inappropriate in this instance.

In contrast, the ASB considered that whilst the term "OMFG" is likely to be used frequently by the target audience, was used in a manner consistent with its colloquial usage and was not threatening or hostile, the fact that people use the term does not negate the fact the association of the words "fucking God" would be considered strong and obscene by many in the community. The term was found to be blasphemous and inappropriate in the circumstances.

Prominently placed and irrelevant use of bad language is not a good idea

The ASB considered the term "OMFG" was positioned so as to be easily viewed by a large audience likely to include children and there was no relevance between the use of the term and a sale where other words would achieve the same effect.


Interestingly this decision is in contrast with previous determinations of the ASB, where complaints have been dismissed involving use of the words "WTF", "OMG", "OMFG" and "LMFAO" in television advertising, where "WTF" appeared on a billboard or on outdoor advertising and where it was argued "WTF" on a poster and also in a television advertisement referred to another acronym.

It appears the ASB is shifting its opinion on use of the acronyms which reference profane language and caution should be taken in their use, especially in circumstances where there is no argument that the acronym has an alternative interpretation.


1ASB Case Number 0496/12, date 16 January 2013
2ASB Case Number 0125/13, date 1 May 2013
3ASB Case Number 0077/13, date 13 March 2013
4ASB Case Number 0064/13, date 13 March 2013
5ASB Case Number 0066/13, date 13 March 2013
6ASB Case Number 0184/13, date 12 June 2013

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Laura Hartley
Erin McGushin
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions