Drink Tank

ABAC didn’t ignore complaint, we were just being incompetent, says ASB

A few days ago, Drink Tank re-published a post from Sydneyhealthlaw about the failure of the ABAC Complaints Panel to respond to a complaint about Diageo streaming a liquor ad at a 3 year-old.

Drink Tank ’s post was brought to the attention of the folks at Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) and the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) .

If you want to complain about an alcohol advertisement, you need to submit it through the “front door” of the ASB.

The ASB determines whether or not the complaint raises issues relating to the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics. My complaint did not: it only raised issues relating to applicable standards for advertising alcohol.

Accordingly, the ASB sent me this letter (Outside Charter-Not S2 – ABAC_01102015_11 34 34 566) advising that the ASB had forwarded the complaint to the ABAC Complaints Panel.

Except that it hadn’t.

ASB’s Operations Manager has now written to advise that due to an administrative error within the Bureau, my complaint went nowhere.

The ABAC scheme – nested within the broader set of advertising codes administered by the ASB – is supposed to serve the public interest. Performance ought to matter.

Unfortunately, based on my own experience, Diageo’s “very strict and long-standing guidelines and policies” for ensuring that alcohol is only promoted to adults didn’t work. And when I made a complaint, the complaints handling system also broke down.

Just in time for Christmas drinks

12 weeks later, ABAC now has my complaint, just in time for Christmas drinks.

My guess is that in due course I’ll receive a response from the ABAC Complaints Panel advising that, in fact, spamming children with alcohol ads does not breach the current ABAC Code.

To get at that message, I’ll probably need to wade through a pile of steaming boilerplate about how the advertiser “shares the complainant’s concern”, “has an excellent advertising compliance track record”, and takes its obligations in relation to responsible consumption of alcohol “extremely seriously”.

At least, that was how the Complaint Panel’s adjudication read 4 years ago when the very same issue was brought to ABAC’s attention (complaint 118/11; 14 January 2012).

That’s where the real criticism lies.

There is no evidence that the alcohol industry, nor ABAC, are serious about imposing accountability for ensuring that alcohol advertisers cease spamming children watching children’s content.

ABAC’s Management Committee is dominated by alcohol and advertising industry associations. They’ve known about this issue for 4 years and done nothing. Don’t they monitor and act on complaints?

Call me old-fashioned, but performance matters. ABAC and its signatories need to lift their game.


This post first appeared 23 December on Sydney Health Law, the blog for The University of Sydney’s Centre for Health Governance, Law and Ethics. If you are interested in studying health law, visit the Sydney Law School for further information about their postgraduate programs.

Roger Magnusson

Roger Magnusson

Roger Magnusson is Professor of Health Law and Governance at the Sydney Law School, University of Sydney, Australia. His research interests are in health law, policy and bioethics; public health law and governance; and health development.

1 comment

  • I am not surprised that nothing changes in relation to alcohol advertising in this country. Here is a direct quote from the ABS website:
    “Self-regulation provides an effective and efficient way for advertisers to engage with consumers and to respond to consumers’ concerns about advertising. It ensures consumer protection by providing a free and fast route for consumers to express their views about advertising and to have an impartial body to contact”.

    It does not!

    It also states:
    “The aim of self-regulation is to maintain high advertising standards and ensure consumer trust and protection for the benefit of all of the community”.

    An ABAC publication (Best Practice for the Responsible Marketing of Alcohol Beverages in Digital Marketing)states:
    “Standards for the placement of alcohol advertising are covered by complementary media specific Industry Codes of Practice. However, there is no specific code of practice for the placement of alcohol advertising in digital marketing.

    “In response, ABAC has developed this best practice advice to assist the alcohol industry in maintaining high standards of social responsibility in the management of alcohol advertising in digital marketing. This advice is non-binding and is not intended to replace or extend the provisions of the Code. Rather, it is intended as guidance to assist advertisers and agencies”.

    Clearly, self regulation us failing the community. Compliance is voluntary, non compliance has no penalties.

    It is time for a set of mandatory standards and any breaches must have appropriate penalties.

    Both the ALP and LNP seem to have a ‘do not upset the alcohol industry’ stance. Perhaps the independents in the Senate could make something happen. At almost 63, I hold out little hope that things will change in my lifetime.

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