Publication Details

This conference paper was originally published as Jones, SC, The decline of ethics or the failure of self-regulation? The case of alcohol advertising, in Proccedings of the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference, 28 November - 1 December 2000, Griffith University.


Restrictions on alcohol advertising have increasingly become an issue for debate around the world. Some countries rely on governmental regulation; whereas others, including Australia, utilise a system of industry selfregulation. This study calls into question the effectiveness of the alcohol beverage industry’s self-regulation of advertising. Between May 1998 and April 1999, 11 alcohol advertising complaints (relating to nine separate advertisements) were lodged with the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) by members of the general public. In the present study, five expert judges were selected to review these complaints, without knowing the ASB’s rulings, and to judge whether the advertisement(s) breached any of the clauses of the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Code of Ethics or Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code. Reliability of the judgements was assessed using Rust & Cooil's (1994) proportional reduction in loss (PRL) reliability measure. In seven of the nine cases the expert judges’ decisions were opposite to the ASB rulings – in all discrepant cases, a majority of the expert judges perceived breaches of the codes, whereas the ASB did not. It is important to note that consumers who contact the ASB, prior to submitting a written complaint, are provided with copies of recent decision records, namely 11 out of 11 complaints refused; one can readily surmise that this information would discourage many potential complainants. This inhibitory practice, as well as our “failure to replicate” the ASB’s decisions, lead us to question whether ethical responsibility is being met by the self-regulatory system for alcohol advertising.