The Australian Association of National Advertisers recently called for the disbandment of what it called “the farce” of the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB), citing its lack of action.

The AARB, readers may remember, was launched earlier this year, by the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Cancer Council WA, to highlight the failures of industry self-regulation.

The advertising industry seems to have jumped the gun. The AARB recently released this report detailing the 63 complaints received in its first three months of operation – including the placement of alcohol ads near schools.

The report commends several alcohol advertisers for engaging with the AARB process, but notes that the following companies have refused to do so:

  • Brown-Forman Australia
  • Beam Global Australia
  • Campari Australia
  • Diageo Australia
  • Foster’s Group Limited (Carlton United Brewers)
  • Lion
  • Some Young Punks Wine
  • Suntory Australia
  • The Bottle-O ‘Luckies Liquor’
  • Woolworths Limited.

Perhaps they will have to rethink this head-in-the-sand strategy; this won’t be the last they hear from the AARB, reports Rebecca Johnson, Policy Advisor, Cancer Council Western Australia.


Acting on irresponsible alcohol advertising

Rebecca Johnson writes:

The launch of the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB), the innovative and independent answer to alcohol advertising self-regulation, was met with an avalanche of media coverage this March.

Professor Fiona Stanley, the Chair of the AARB, indicated at the launch that the AARB was an idea whose time had undoubtedly come: “The community and parents are rightly concerned at the tsunami of alcohol promotion to which our children are exposed.  We are seeing increasing numbers of children drinking to get drunk – it’s time to act.”

Action is AARB’s middle name.

Last week, AARB, which is supported by the McCusker Centre for Action of Alcohol and Youth and the Cancer Council of Western Australia, released the determinations it has made since launch and its first report.

It has been an immensely busy quarter; the AARB received a total of 63 complaints about 53 ads – that’s a complaint every single weekday since launch.

Of the 44 that could be considered, the AARB Panel upheld 25 complaints in full and 17 in part, and dismissed 2.  During the same time period, the industry-sponsored self-regulatory scheme made determinations on just 9 complaints.

Complaints to AARB came from all around Australia and reflected the true extent to which the community is drowning in booze propaganda.

People complained about an extensive array of promotion activities: ads on TV, sports sponsorship, ads at concerts and cinemas, naming and packaging of products, outdoor ads near schools and playgrounds, public transport ads, and internet advertisements.

They complained about ads that promoted alcohol using sex, sporting prowess, and weight loss, and particularly about ads that seemed to be carefully shaped and placed to appeal to young audiences.

In short, the complaints reveal the vast collection of community concerns about alcohol advertising in Australia.

AARB acknowledges and responds to those concerns.  To handle the inundation of advertising complaints, the AARB has engaged nearly seventy AARB Panellists from a range of professions including public health, research medicine, law, education and marketing.  The Panellists have delivered considered, reasonable determinations on each complaint that has been put to them, independent of alcohol industry influence.

In the name of procedural fairness, AARB notifies advertisers of complaints and invites them to participate in the review process.  Some chose to engage with AARB, recognizing that AARB – and the important and necessary debate about alcohol advertising regulation – are not going to go away.

Some acted commendably, such as Bacardi Lion, which immediately removed its offending advertisement from the playground bus shelter where it had been placed.

Others refused to engage, defending their professed prerogative to run booze ads at times and in places where children and young people are exposed.

AARB now offers those advertisers that blatantly disregard community concern about their advertising practices up to the court of public opinion.

Find AARB’s first quarter of hard work – the ads, the advertisers, the complaints and the determinations – at  It’ll rattle some cages, but the AARB means business.  It’s here to stay.

• Rebecca Johnson is Policy Advisor, Cancer Council Western Australia