AUSTRALIAN MEDIA VEHICLES' STANDARDS FOR ACCEPTABLE ADVERTISING
Herbert Jack Rotfeld, Colin Jevons, and Irene Powell ABSTRACT: U.S. and Australian media vehicles are not required to publish or broadcast every commercial advertising message submitted. To the contrary, owners and managers are free to designate anyone's message as unacceptable, and, in fact, they do so, for many reasons. Building on the research literature on U.S. business practices, this paper reports results of depth interviews with Australian media managers on their approaches to deciding what advertising materials to accept or reject. The U.S.-based literature provides the basis for a model that illustrates the influences on media vehicles' decisions, and Australian managers' responses indicate that it readily applies in their country as well. Overall, similar to U.S. practices, the single most important reason for rejection of advertisements in Australia is a breach of taste, although Australian vehicle managers more readily and visibly assert deference to the judgment of their more numerous and active trade associations.
In Australia, as in the United States, no mass media vehicle— no television station, cable or broadcast network, magazine, radio station or newspaper—is required to accept any commercial advertising material it does not wish to carry. With some limited exceptions on broadcast political advertising, mass media vehicles possess the right to reject any advertising matter they do not wish to carry, and in the United States, some impose strong standards on which types of advertising content they will accept for broadcast or publication (Rotfeld 1992, 2001; Weber 1991; Zanot 1985). Every rejection by a vehicle manager has the power to influence or alter an advertising campaign. Sometimes the vehicle's objections are minor, so the firm can make changes to the ad or commercial without harming the message strategy. Of course, the advertiser can decide to take the rejected advertising to another vehicle, but only if there are others willing to accept it whose audiences would meet the needs of the media strategy. In the United States, with large numbers of vehicles available for marketing managers to reach their target audiences, what one vehicle rejects, others might find to be readily acceptable (Parsons, Rotfeld, and Gray 1987; Rotfeld and Abernethy 1992; Rotfeld, Abernethy, and Parsons 1990; Wicks 1991a). Past research on formal and informal practices apparently finds that the only universal is that many media managers state a belief that what they do is universal. Herbert Jack Rotfeld (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana— Champaign) is a professor in the Department of Marketing, Auburn University, Alabama. Colin Jevons (M.Bus., Monash University) is a senior lecturer in markering, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Irene Powell (M.A., Monash University) is a senior lecturer in marketing, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
This does not, however, mean that these media vehicle management practices tend to be based on a concern for protecting consumers from deceptive advertising, as is done with government regulations. In numerous surveys, the U.S. vehicles' advertising managers repeatedly tend to state that their most common reason for rejecting advertising is that the advertising style does not "fit" the editorial content. The actual protection of consumers from harm is a general by-product of their practices, whose primary intent is to deliver a vehicle that audience members would wish to read, watch, or listen to (see, e.g., Hayes and Rotfeld 1989; Parsons and Rotfeld 1990; Parsons, Rotfeld, and Gray 1987; Rotfeld and Abernethy 1991,1992; Rotfeld and Parsons 1989; Wicks 1991a, 1991b). Rotfeld, Lacher, and Latour (1996) found that more than 7 1 % of their respondent newspaper publishers indicated a strong concern for whether ads might be deceptive, and had asked for substantiation of statements. And yet, this too could be driven by a desire that the vehicle advertising "fit" with the publication's overall content, since daily newspapers, unlike other media forms, have their origins in concern for news and information as opposed to the entertainment origins of magazines, television, and radio. A growing body of studies of U.S. media managers' policies and practices provides insight into the pragmatic realities of media influences on advertising content and the limitations of media activities as a dependable force in consumer protection. The present study extends this literature to the Australian media market, a nation with fewer mass media alternatives for advertisers and a more active collection
The authors acknowledge the assistance of Sarah Spencer-Matthews, formerly of the University of Queensland, in the collection of original data for this paper.
Journal of Advertising, vol. 33, no. 4 (Winter 2004), pp. 65-73. © 2004 American Academy of Advertising. All rights reserved. ISSN 0091-3367 / 2004 J9.5O + 0.00.
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of self-regulation organizations that closely attend to media practices. U.S. Media Decisions, Self-Regulation, and Consumer Protection While the goal of government regulation of advertising by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aimed at stopping consumer deception, media policies do not necessarily share that same focus. Each vehicle imposes its own standards that advertisers must meet for the material to be acceptable: Some vehicles accept virtually anything; many others limit their concerns to regulatory restrictions or potential legal liabilities (Campbell 1999; Rotfeld 1992, 2001; Wicks 1991a, 1991b). But each vehicle's manager or owner is free to direct these standards based on his or her own assessments of the laws, audience values, and what is ethically right and proper. In general, the senior manager of the organization, usually a publisher (in print media) or a general manager (in electronic media) sets overall policies. The manager's job performance is judged by the overall profitability of the vehicle, and he or she, in turn, is concerned about producing a vehicle that both attracts audiences and interests advertisers (see, e.g., Hayes and Rotfeld 1989; Lacher and Rotfeld 1994; Rotfeld 1992; Rotfeld and Abernethy 1992; Rotfeld, Lacher, and LaTour 1996; Rotfeld and Parsons 1989; Wicks 1991a, 1991b). Thus, advertising decisions are based on a cautious concern for the impact of the advertising on the audience. The managers' actions are comparable to those of editors, who oversee the vehicles' news or entertainment content. Based on policies or directions from senior management, advertising acceptance decisions view the advertising content as part of the overall vehicle content (Rotfeld 1992, 2001). Television stations or cable networks rarely ask advertisers for substantiation of claims (Parsons and Rotfeld 1990; Rotfeld 2001; Rotfeld, Abernethy, and Parsons 1990; Rotfeld et al. I99O). Radio stations make such inquiries even less (Rotfeld and Abernethy 1992). Daily newspapers are the only medium that is more likely to list "misleading advertising" as its single most common reason for rejecting advertising (Lacher and Rotfeld 1994; Rotfeld, Lacher, and LaTour 1996). Some individual media companies might state a strong concern for stopping deceptive advertising, but more commonly, while the vehicle managers probably would not knowingly carry ads that actually harm the audience, their primary concern is to avoid doing things that would cause readers to go elsewhere. In other words, they are more concerned about the deceptions that consumers might find on their own than they are about misleading claims that readers, viewers, or listeners might never discover. By the same process, managers may demand that advertisers meet requirements that would never be re-
quired by government regulations, refusing certain subject matter selling legal products or potentially offensive, but not obscene, presentation styles (LaBarbera 1983; Rotfeld 1992, 2001, 2003; Rotfeld, Abernethy, and Parsons 1990; Rotfeld and Parsons 1989; Weber 1991). Within this context, faced with finite funds for advertising regulation, the FTC recognizes that every deceptive ad stopped by the media is one less that might require the commission's attention. Accordingly, it has been attempting to encourage some of the vehicle managers to take a more activist role in protecting audiences from deceptive ads. In these days of the Internet and quickly exchanged information, time and costs associated with checking out advertiser claims is no longer a reason for ignoring possibly deceptive claims. At the same time, however, managers' jobs are evaluated by revenue and profitability, so even the best policy is often driven by a mix of greed and fear—wanting the revenue and not wishing to drive away the audience. And in marketing the vehicle, most managers are concerned about their entertainment value, not a reputation for news and honesty. Figure 1, which follows the style and format used by Rotfeld (1992) to explain the limits of self-regulation, summarizes past research on U.S. practices and illustrates the primary infiuences on various vehicles' decisions for advertising acceptance found by various published studies. Past studies have delineated how not all vehicles respond to all factors. Some media vehicles accept almost anything. The greater the variety of alternative advertising vehicles for a marketing manager's media plan, the more likely that an ad or commercial will find outlets willing to accept it. Even potential lawsuits or restrictive regulations do not deter some managers, since they may remain either ignorant ofthe law or brazen in their belief that they are "safe" (for some unusual examples, see Rotfeld 2001). To an extent, vehicles' standards for acceptable advertising do infiuence and alter some advertising content, including both the claims advertisers make and the styles of presentation used. But as previously noted, an advertiser must alter the advertising style or content only insofar as he or she wishes to reach a particular vehicle's audience. A vehicle's advertising acceptance standards only prevent advertising claims or styles from reaching its readers, listeners, or viewers. Interrelated factors listed in Figure 1—offending the audience, audience complaints, and damage to the vehicle's overall image—are those most commonly mentioned by media managers as primary concerns for acceptance decisions. U.S. media charge advertising rates based on the size of their audiences, and since these factors might cause a loss of audience, they could result in less income for the vehicle. Loss of advertisers is another area of potential income loss for the vehicle, although it is seldom reported as a basis for acceptance decisions for competitors' advertising. More commonly, the pri-
Winter 2004 FIGURE 1 Factors Influencing Vehicles' Decisions to Accept Advertising
Newspapers Magazines TV Networks & Stations Radio Stations Cable TV Networks
Laws & regulations + Lawsuits
Vehicles' Clearance Standards + Loss of advertisers
tions on competition. Therefore, the only power a self-regulation code has on its members is the power of cooperation, or any external force that might "encourage" cooperation, such as regulations or laws that might be threatened. Indeed, "Without the threat of government action, only the most altruistic of firms would ever pay heed to self-regulation directives" (Rotfeld 2001, p. 128). Until 1982 in the United States, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) had a code of good practices that was encouraged by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the body that granted licenses to broadcasters. Even at the peak of its power, however, before it paradoxically ended operations under threatened legal liability under the antitrust laws for its limits on numbers of commercial minutes per hour, it had only 60% of television stations and less than 50% of radio stations following the code. Still, these were the largest stations with the largest audiences, and the loss of the code had many lamenting its loss as a force for consumer protection (e.g., Bosterhous 1983; Campbell 1999; Maddox and Zanot 1984). And yet, one could also assert that the code was more concerned with issues of taste than deception—such as the use of live models in underwear advertising—since audience complaints were always a factor that would generate FCC fines, or even a loss of license. In some countries, various self-regulation bodies might have ties to media trade associations, such that violation of the code would result in most vehicles rejecting the advertising (Boddewyn 1985, 1991; Harker and Harker 2000). In the United States, however, such a relationship would probably result in a per se violation of the antitrust laws, such that the vehicles would be reluctant to enter a partnership with any self-regulatory organizations. In Australia, such a partnership, which also included advertising agencies, was allowed for many years under a special exemption to their Trade Practices Act, an exception that was ended in 1996 (see, e.g., Kerr and Moran 2002; Pearson 1996, 1999). As in the United States, television broadcasting in Australia is more closely regulated than other media. Unlike the NAB in the United States, however, Australian broadcast regulations are directly involved with advertising issues. The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) administers the Broadcast Services Act, which manages television and radio licenses, advertising classifications, and the amount of advertising content per hour. The ABA also administers all the preclearance of television advertising to ensure that it meets a minimum standard requiring compliance with both legislation and the Advertiser Code of Conduct. Television stations are not legally able to run national advertising that has not been vetted and given an authorizing key code number. Advertising to children is governed by the Children's Television Standards, an additional requirement ofthe Broadcasting Services Act.
+ Damage to vehicle's overall image + Audience Complaints
mary "consumer protection" activity seems to be primarily driven by concerns for audience loyalty. The priority in acceptance decisions is to maintain an overall vehicle content that engenders the maximum audience, which can later be "sold" to advertisers. Actual harm to the audience can only result from deceptive claims that audience members might not discover on their own, so this becomes an influence primarily for those (apparently rare) managers or owners who see service to the public as a personal, and often altruistic, goal. "Laws and regulations" can be real or threatened by government hearings, enforced, or merely on the books. In any ofthe above cases, they are outside-the-firm threats to the organization, indicating necessary directions for certain decisions. How readily a vehicle responds depends on the manager's knowledge of laws, ability to understand what the laws require, and a willingness to comply (Hayes and Rotfeld 1989; Maitland 1985; Parsons and Rotfeld 1990). Sometimes fear of a potential "lawsuit" might engender special acceptance decisions (Weber 1991), although there are anecdotes of U.S. broadcasters not altering policies, even when required by law, until a listener or viewer attempts to hold them responsible for their misfeasance or nonfeasance (e.g., Rotfeld 1992, 2001; Rotfeld and Abernethy 1992; Rotfeld and Parsons 1989). BUSINESS PRACTICES A N D THE FORCE OF SELF-REGULATION An inherent limit to any self-regulation effort comes from the U.S. antitrust laws, or the comparable Australian trade practices regulations. In either country, no business group can force a mode of behavior on any of their competitors (e.g., Garvin 1983; LaBarbera 1983; Levin 1967; Maitland 1985; Rotfeld 1992). Such restrictions would be improper restric-
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Still, with a number of other Australian regulatory agencies and consumer groups expressing concerns about "protecting" consumers, various media trade associations felt impelled to have their own codes. For example, the Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia (OAAA) developed guidelines for all its members, and commented that there was a risk to industry self-regulation if the industry were perceived as failing to address concerns regarding advertising standards (AANA/AFA/OAAA May 2001). An important point of contrast is that the Australian mass media system is smaller and narrower in terms of both numbers of outlets and owners than that found in the United States. Rejection of advertising by a major vehicle could leave the advertiser with few viable alternatives that would not have a negative impact on the overall media strategy. The issue is how readily Australian managers report priorities that are different from those commonly reported in the United States. METHOD While studies of U.S. practices encompassed numerous largescale surveys, the majority of vehicle policies in Australia are available from a much smaller number of contacts. Sixteen telephone depth interviews involving 14 organizations were undertaken, with multiple contacts required in the few instances when more than one person was responsible for decision making for different vehicles in the same company. The questionnaire that guided the depth interviews is available in the Appendix. Four of the organizations represented the commercial television industry, five were drawn from the magazine publishing sector, two were from newspapers, two were from the outdoor media, and one was from radio. The titles of people with management responsibility for screening advertisements prior to acceptance ranged from new business development manager, editor, publisher, sales director, and direct sales manager. The fourteen organizations willing to respond represent over 80% of the media vehicle decision making in the country. RESULTS Policies and Priorities All the respondents interviewed stated that their organizations were members of their trade association, such as the Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia (OAAA), the Commercial Television Association (CTA), the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, the Magazine Publishers Association, and the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters. And yet, not all of these managers who claimed to administer these decisions could always recall if they had a formal policy statement. However, the ignorance went a step further in the
United States, when comparable managers cited trade rules or codes, but then noted they had not read them lately and did not know anyone on staff who owned a copy ofthe guidelines. Indeed, elaboration of details often revealed that these managers did not really know what the code said. The Australian magazine and newspaper publishers were able to provide a copy of the information they give to potential advertisers who are preparing advertisements. An analysis of these "policies" found that they were comparable to what was reported in the U.S. print media studies, with the references to advertising standards contained in contract form for the standard terms and conditions (e.g., payment method, artwork instructions, placement). They require advertisers to sign a confirmation that their advertisement is in accord with the legal requirements for advertising in Australia, such as copyright law, the Trade Practices Act, and the Advertiser Code of Conduct. The individual policies for magazine publications were essentially drawn from these legal entities, but were accompanied by a much stronger focus on technical requirements for reproduction, concerns about liability, and ability of the advertiser to pay the bills. The Australian outdoor media managers had written policy documents that spelled out both legal and self-regulatory requirements, a direct outcome ofthe close governmental scrutiny ofthe outdoor industry. The state government in Victoria called for an inquiry into the portrayal of women in advertising, and the findings were reported in February 2002 (Victoria 2002), with recommendations subsequently incorporated into the OAAA code of conduct. Australian television broadcasters do not appear to have formal advertising acceptance policies over and above the legal requirements. This was asserted to be due to the perceived strength ofthe regulatory system that all advertisements must address prior to airing. Prior to submitting an advertisement for airing on commercial television in Australia, the advertisement must be approved by the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations (FACTS, since renamed as CTA). All advertisements that are screened and approved by FACTS/ CTA are given a key number, and it is an offense under the Australian Broadcasting Services Act for an advertisement to be accepted by a television station without this number. One participant reflected that the FACTS/CTA approval system was "fairly fail-safe," as the approval process also dictates any particular conditions that an advertisement may have in terms of airing. The participant stated that "an advertisement is classified in the similar manner to our normal programs—if it is deemed unsuitable for children, then the advertisement can only be aired after 20:30." Of course, just because a commercial is approved does not mean it will be accepted by the individual broadcast organizations. One respondent made a point of stressing this personal power to veto an advertisement even if it has FACTS
Winter 2004 approval, although she admitted that such actions have been rare. The situation where she might reject an advertisement would most likely be based on the time slot desired by the advertiser and its fit with the audience, not potential deception, based on her experience and interpretation of community values. The respondent acknowledged that "it is a gray area . . . you will always get the 'ratbags' complaining." ("Ratbag" means "serial trivial complainers.") A different respondent also believes that "FACTS occasionally gets it wrong." For example, while they are allowed to show an advertisement rated S (sex) between 11 P.M. and 5 A.M. local time, the particular television station would not run them prior to midnight, and even then they are selective in terms of the program environment. It should be intuitively obvious that this is less an error by FACTS than it is the result of the manager's own sense of how the commercial fits with the audience tastes. The Australian print media—both newspapers and magazines—mentioned that all ads are booked with the proviso that the publisher reserves the right to reject any advertisements. In addition, the industry trade body also provides guidance over and above legal requirements of the various codes. Print managers noted the Therapeutic Goods Code and the Weight Loss Industry Code as being well known and as seen to have the force of legislation. In the United States, the vehicles and their trade associations state an expectation and desire that deception control be managed by the government agencies (see, e.g., FTC 2002; Galloway, Rotfeld, and Richards 2005; Rotfeld 2003). In the same fashion, and despite claims of more extensive self-regulation control, Australian managers also focus on taste, not protecting the vehicle's audience from deception, stating an expectation that the advertisers will be compliant with the Trade Practices Act. The concern is to avoid offending the audience, and reducing its commercial value as a result, rather than to avoid misleading it. For example, one magazine's advertising manager said that this publication would not accept advertisements from dating services, a firm policy for the particular company, although many of the other specific conditions are not written down. In print media of magazines and newspapers, advertising sales executives are given delegated authority to make decisions and will only refer "up to the editor when it looks dicey." Decision Making Respondents reported disparate views about who in the company was responsible for implementation of the company's advertising acceptance policy. One respondent stated that it is the responsibility of the production manager to check that the client advertisement is suitable for publication and that the "sales team just sells the space." Another respondent stated that the salesperson should communicate the company policy to the advertiser or advertising agency.
What it comes down to at these Australian organizations is a process that, on a day-to-day basis, sounds the same as that reported in the United States. Most participants admitted that, ultimately, the staff responsible for screening used their judgment based on employees' perceptions of community attitudes. Although a "check sheet is not used," it is seen as part of the managers' role to decide on the acceptance of advertisements, and these decisions are "based on common sense," "knowledge ofthe Codes," and, in many instances, an interpretation of what is "acceptable"; "it is the community (that) sets the standards." Audience Complaints When asked about the types of complaints that had been received about advertisements in their publications, one magazine company stated that complaints from advertisers were taken much more seriously than complaints from readers. The advertiser is usually complaining about problems with its own advertisement, however, such as mistakes in copy or position of the advertisement. Several magazine publishers reported very little knowledge of complaints from consumers about their advertisements, asserting that (1) their publications were "fairly conservative," and therefore did not suit potentially controversial advertisements, however defined; (2) since the cost of advertising in their vehicles is relatively high, advertisers did not want to risk alienating readers or cause a delay in production; and (3) "most advertisers are aboveboard anyway." The television broadcasters were more aware of complaints, due to their responsibility to log and report all complaints as part of their license agreements. Outdoor companies were aware of complaints from consumers; they, too, log all their complaints and could provide contact details for the Australian Standards Bureau. One participant who had had many years in the traffic department thought that violence, sexism, sex, nudity, and concern for children would be the most common grounds for problems. It was noted that sexism these days refers to sexism against both males and females. Complaints against advertising can come from "both the sane and the ratbags"—not all complaints are logical or unemotional. This perception by the managers is upheld by the letters of complaint published by the Advertising Standards Bureau that exhibit emotional language indicative of strongly held opinions and beliefs (e.g.. Advertising Standards Bureau 2003a, 2003b). It should be noted that complaints are not necessarily representative of the population at large (as reported by Volkov, Harker, and Harker 2002). Several respondents noted what they felt were the limits of their responsibility. For example, an interviewee said that it is frustrating when a mother complains that her child viewed
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an inappropriate advertisement that was screened after 8:30 P.M., the time at which the code of practice assumes that children cease viewing television for the evening. Another reported that complaints are relatively common during times when programs that have been rated "parental guidance recommended" or "M" ("mature audiences only") are aired. And yet, the logic of the standards might be in error. The time slot from noon to 3:00 P.M. Monday through Friday during schoolterm time is rated "M," but this time slot poses a potential source of complaints from viewers, as young children who are not at school, kindergarten, or day care could be exposed to an inappropriate advertisement. A magazine publisher reflected on "Just how far are we supposed to go?" in checking advertising claims. The publisher was speaking specifically about the recent increase in advertisements that include a Web address, asking if the magazine would be responsible if the advertiser's Web site contained potentially offensive material, even if the advertisement in the magazine was all aboveboard. Political opinion advertisements outside the formal electioneering period are uncommon in Australian television, magazines, and newspapers; most election money is spent on targeting voters in marginal electorates via direct mail. Respondents' comments reflected this, although one participant could recall that 18 months previously an advertiser was asked to voluntarily withdraw its advertisement, as it was supposedly disrespectful of the local State premier. Since stating certain opinions could offend certain audiences, it is no wonder that many U.S. vehicles have a blanket ban on opinion advertising, although apparently this is a nonissue in Australia. Some respondents reported little concern about the potential of reader/viewer complaints, whereas others were much more sensitive about the impact on their vehicle. This was evident with one of the broadcast participants, who reported, "Perhaps if excessive complaints were received, then it could reflect badly on our company, but essentially, it is the advertiser, not the medium, that they (the viewer) are annoyed with." This view is not illogical; indeed, it is consistent with many examples of audience reactions to offensive advertising in the United States (see Rotfeld 2001 for some detailed examples). Rationalization about not caring overmuch about receiving some complaints is evident in the comments of the interviewee who stated that it was common for a client to advertise across all television stations, and therefore, "our station is in no more hot water than the other stations." One participant did acknowledge, however, that complaints that were numerous or ofa high degree of severity would be investigated further. FINAL CONTRASTS A N D LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE It should be noted that some published studies of self-regulation both in the United States and other countries implicitly
presume a sense of altruism on the part of decision makers. Effects or effectiveness is sometimes presented by counting the types of advertising activities stopped. It is true that some individual media owners in any country might be driven by an altruistic sense of community service. But the media vehicle managers make their decisions for business reasons, and time and again, participants' responses indicate that more pragmatic business considerations dominate. The important point of Figure 1 and the present study is that the key issue is not "how many" vehicles engage in certain types of decisions, but rather more timeless insight into the business forces that influence those decisions in both countries. More broadly. Figure 1 is not tied to U.S. culture, but describes free-market decision making by managers, in which advertising-supported media constitute a profit-driven business. There is every reason to expect the Figure to readily apply to many other countries with a market-driven media system with limited government regulation. While managers in both the United States and Australia are averse to conflict, they would rather not be in the uncomfortable position of rejecting advertising revenue. In the United States, to go beyond issues of "fit" with the editorial content, managers rationalize that an uncertain "someone else," such as managers at other vehicles or the government, would act on deceptions or other problems of audience protection (see, e.g.. Parsons and Rotfeld 1990; Rotfeld 1992, 2001, 2003). In Australia, advertising managers say that they do not want to go beyond the foundation of active legislation; with the Trade Practices Act, the Broadcasting Services Act, and the many and growing codes of conduct and prescriptive guidelines, they can point to another authority that they can assett is handling problems. Indeed, in Australia, media vehicle managers believe that standards are formally regulated, and that in the main, this provides sufficient protection. All current outdoor advertising contractors are members of the OAAA, and when the issue of the portrayal of women arose, the industry body spoke on behalf of all its members and subsequently adopted a code with which all will comply. Managers in the United States and Australia are driven by the practicalities of doing their job: "Attracting an audience and selling that audience to advertisers." Collectively, they are not driven by social policy, but individually, they have their own opinions and beliefs about what is "legal, decent, honest, and truthful." In both countries, the media marketplace is very competitive, with many vehicles looking to secure diminishing advertising budgets. The pressure to secure audience and advertising revenue takes precedence over what is a small percentage of complaints compared with the volume of advertising carried by each vehicle. The results of the interviews with managers responsible for advertising acceptance for television and radio stations, magazine and newspaper publishers, and outdoor media in-
Winter 2004 dicate that the situation in Australia is similar to that in the United States in that the single most important reason for rejection of advertisements was a breach of taste. Australian television companies have relied very heavily on rulings made by FACTS/CTA, while magazines and newspapers, which also reported rarely rejecting advertising, did so when the product or the message was considered likely to conflict with the values of the readership. The outdoor medium was unique in that it rejected more advertising, but this was a result of the current circumstances in adopting their new code. And yet, in both countries, government agencies would like media vehicles to do more to screen advertising for deception. In recent years, this has come to a head with the plethora of weight loss products in countries that both report growing problems with obesity. In 2002, with public hearings and a 2003 staff report, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission had the vexing problem of an inundation of patently deceptive weight loss advertising. To make matters worse from the point of view of both the FTC and consumer advocates, the products might gain additional unearned consumer credibility since a large amount of the deceptive advertising appeared in reputable and trusted magazines, newspapers, and television outlets. At a workshop to encourage media vehicles to move to spot and stop these deceptive claims (FTC 2002), the media managers on the panel seemed reluctant, and even unwilling, to take a leadership role and say they would try to stop accepting the advertising (Galloway, Rotfeld, and Richards 2005; Rotfeld 2003). This prompted one commissioner to publicly express her dismay with the media managers and to hint that the commission could take the unprecedented step of holding vehicles liable for publishing or broadcasting the patently false claims by the weight loss advertisers (Anthony 2003). The vehicles could have readily seen this comment, coupled with other statements at the workshop, as a real threat that the FTC had the power to enact (Galloway 2003). The final staff report and decisions backed off from recommendations of actually holding the vehicles responsible, and the threat is believed to possibly encourage some vehicles to at least stop carrying the most blatant of deceptive claims for these products. Similarly, in March 2004, Graeme Samuel, chairman of the Australian Consumer Competition Commission (ACCC), the government agency and industry watchdog that enforces the Trade Practice Act, announced that it would be targeting advertising agencies and media outlets to ensure that they had proper procedures in place to prevent the publication of misleading and deceptive advertising. The agency announced that it would be targeting extravagant claims for weight loss products, and the companies could be liable for fines in excess of a million dollars (Hartley 2004). The vehicles have the possible defense that they did not know or had no reason to
suspect that the advertisement was deceptive or misleading, but the view of the ACCC is that publishers and broadcasters would have reason to be suspicious if the claims are not in keeping with generally known facts. In both instances, the threat of regulations could and should be expected to cause changes in business practices, and perhaps, at least in Australia, such changes could be fostered by media trade associations. REFERENCES AANA/AFA/OAAA (Australian Association of National Advertisers/Australian Advertising Federation/Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia) (2001), Outdoor Advertising Advisory Paper and Checklist (May). Advertising Standards Bureau (2003a), Case Reports, ref no. 273/03, September 9. (2003b), Case Reports, ref. no. 396/03, December 9. Anthony, Sheila (2003), "Let's Clean Up the Diet-Ad Mess," Advertising Age, lA (February 3). Boddewyn, J. J. (1985), "Advertising Self-Regulation: Private Government and Agent of Public 'Policy," Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 4, 129-141. (1991), "Controlling Sex and Decency in Advertising Around the ^ot\A," Joumal of Advertising, 20 (December), 25-36. Bosterhous, Patricia (1983), "United States v. National Association of Broadcasters: The Deregulation of Self-Regulation," Fe^er«/ Communications Law Journal, 35 (Fall), 313-346. Campbell, Angela J. (1999), "Self-Regulation and the Media," Federal Communications Law Journal, 51 (3), 711—771. FTC (Federal Trade Commission) (2002), "Deception in Weight Loss Advertising: A Workshop" (November 19), Washington, DC: Federal Trade Commission. Galloway, Chester S. (2003), "The First Amendment and FTC Weight-Loss Advertising Reguhtion," Journal of Consumer Affairs, 37 (Winter), 413-423. , Herbert Jack Rotfeld, and Jef I. Richards (2005), "Hold Media Responsible for Deceptive Weight-Loss Advertising," West Virginia Law Review, 107 (Winter, in press). Garvin, David A. (1983), "Can Industry Self-Regulation Work?" California Management Review, 25 (Summer), 37—52. Harker, Debra, and Michael Harker (2000), "The Role of Codes of Conduct in the Advertising Self-Regulatory Framework," Journal of Macromarketing, 20(2), 155—166. Hartley, Laura (2004), "ACCC Targets Misleading Ads," Ad News (May 7), 11. Hayes, Rader, and Herbert J. Rotfeld (1989), "Infomercials and Cable Network Programming," Advancing the Consumer Interest, 1 (2), 17-22. Kerr, Gayle, and Cheryl Moran (2002), "Any Complaints? A Review of the Framework of Self-Regulation in the Australian Advertising Industry," Joumal of Marketing Communications, 8 (3), 189-202. LaBarbera, Priscilla A. (1983), "The Diffusion of Trade Associa-
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44-51, 59, 68.
APPENDIX Telephone Questionnaire (Depth Interview Guide)
I am conducting some research on advertising acceptance practices in the ad industry in Australia. Are you the right person to speak to? [Or] Who do you think I should speak to? Please may I ask you the questions just now? 1. a. Who in your organization sets the policy to decide which ads are acceptable? b. Who in your organization is responsible for day-today decisions? c. Who in yout otganization has the final say? d. Would you discuss any likely controvetsial ads with the client and agency? 2. a. Are there special guidelines for acceptance of ads for certain product categories, such as alcohol, weight loss, condoms, feminine hygiene, therapeutic goods, political opinion? b. Are there special guidelines for acceptance of ads for different sites/time slots/ positions in the publication (e.g., sealed section)? 3. a. Do you have a formal or informal policy for accepting or rejecting ads? ' 4.
b. If formal, is this a written policy? c. If yes, is it possible to receive a copy of the policy? Are there any recent guidelines that have affected how you accept ads? Portrayal of women/outdoor, motor vehicles, and so forth. Do you think that your medium is different from other media? Outdoor/Television/Radio/Newspapers/ Magazines/Cinema. a. What is the single most common reason for rejecting ads? b. What other reasons have caused you to teject ads in the past? c. What are examples of rejected ads? d. What percentage of ads would be rejected, say, in the past six months? a. How do you handle complaints? b. Have you ever asked an advertiser to prove the claims made in an ad? What other commercial pressures have an impact on your acceptance policy? Is thete someone else in your organization who also deals with the acceptance of advertising that I should speak to? Who? What is yout opinion of the recent controversy over specific ads?