Monday 16 October 2023

Let’s Make Codes and Compliance Cool(er)

By Hannah Sturrock, ACA National Head of Engagement.


On joining ACA two years ago, I inherited the responsibility of delivering our Codes and Compliance training to our members.

Initially, I felt the fear. I didn’t know much about this topic despite having worked in advertising for most of my professional life. How was I going to become the guru in a few short weeks? Then I felt resistance. The prospect of studying something that sounded so dry and technical was not appealing. Why did I need to deliver this? Couldn’t we get someone else? Then I entered the acceptance phase. Ethical and legal competence should be 101 for anyone working in advertising and it’s a core component of belonging to an industry body. Why should I be an exception? Bah. Fine.

So after a few stern words with myself, I dived into the topic of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory and legal frameworks, and what everyone needs to know in order to do their jobs well.

I’m not going to pretend compliance is the sexiest topic. It’s not. But we are advertising professionals, positioned as trusted advisors to our clients. This means, frankly, we need to get over our natural resistance to the word “compliance” and accept the responsibility of understanding what does and does not constitute legal and ethical advertising.

ACA offers our members free Codes and Compliance training three times per year. It’s an hour-long workshop that is relevant to everyone working in advertising, regardless of department or seniority. It’s accessible and engaging (yes, I’m biased).

We cover the big end of town – the ACCC and the Competition and Consumer Act aka “the law” and some eye-opening examples of misleading advertising that attracted enormous fines, such as the Trivago case. We chat a bit about puffery and greenwashing too.

We then go through the AANA Code of Ethics – our industry’s self-regulatory system.

The Code of Ethics is there to maintain high advertising standards, protect consumers from being misled, and provide a fast and free method for consumers to express their views about advertising. And they sure do have a lot of views!

We check out examples of ads that attracted complaints under sections of the code, including work that was seen to be exploitative or degrading, unnecessarily violent or that used sex, sexuality or nudity in a way that was insensitive to the relevant audience.

We also go through what is acceptable in terms of language.

I am proud (?) to say that “bugger”, “crap”, “bloody”, “cheap bastard”, “bum”, “shit load”, “shit” and “bollocks” are generally acceptable.

One more thing. The training is not just for Client Management people.

Understanding the Code of Ethics applies to all stages of the advertising process: when we receive a brief, write a brief, develop concepts, brief casting, design and approve layouts, headlines or edits. We all need to know what to look out for.

Additionally, ACA recently launched our accreditation program, and one of the four mandatory prerequisites is a commitment to offering codes and compliance training to all staff.

It’s time to accept that compliance is not really optional.

It’s a badge of competence.
It’s a badge of professionalism.
It’s a badge of sensitivity.
And if enough of us wear these badges, that makes it cool.

ACA Members are invited to join the next Codes and Compliance online workshop on Tuesday 31 October at 12:15 pm. Learn more and register here.


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