Self-regulation of alcohol advertising: Is it working for Australia?
Objective: 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 self-regulation. This study calls into question the effectiveness of the alcohol beverage industry's self-regulation of advertising in Australia. Method: 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 Phase One of the present study, eight marketing academics ('expert judges') were asked, without knowing the ASB's rulings, 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. In Phase Two, the same ads were similarly assessed by a group of second-year advertising students at an Australian university ('student judges'). Results: A majority of the expert judges perceived breaches of the Codes for seven of the nine advertisements. For all nine of the advertisements, a majority of the university students felt that each of the ads was in breach of one or more of the Codes of Practice. The ASB had ruled that none of the ads breached any of the Codes. Discussion and Conclusions: There is a clear discrepancy between our judges and members of the ASB with respect to interpretations of the Codes of Practice. Given that our judges were not biased against alcohol advertising and self-regulation, it appears that ASB members may lack objectivity (or expertise) in their assessments of complaints. Furthermore, 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 rejected in this case. It may well be that this information would discourage many complainants from proceeding. This potentially 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.