Advertising watchdog investigates 'discrimination and vilification' complaints about Meat & Livestock Australia campaign

Meat & Livestock Australia's (MLA) spring lamb campaign will be investigated by Australia's ad watchdog

Australia’s advertising watchdog Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) will investigate the Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) latest lamb campaign after receiving 50 complaints about the ad.

The ad, which features religious gods and prophets from different faiths and beliefs coming together to share a BBQ lamb meal, has received complaints about discrimination and vilification on the grounds of religious beliefs.

The ASB will investigate whether the ad has breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics in Advertising, which states: ‘Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.’

The MLA ad has received criticism within Australia and abroad for its depiction of Ganesha, who is the Hindu god of wisdom and learning as well as the remover of obstacles.

In the latest criticism, The High Commission of India in Australia has made a demarche to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Communication and Arts and Department of Agriculture claiming the ad is “offensive" and "hurting religious sentiments".

Andrew Howie, group marketing manager at MLA, told The Drum, the intention of the ad was to present a message of inclusion and acceptance by showing how different religions could come together.

“The intention was not to upset any religion or to result in the response that we have received. We were trying to paint Australia as an accommodating and accepting country.

“We take the self-regulation and responsible advertiser mantle very seriously and we work very hard to maintain and build work that we believe sits within the code.

“The reality is the code doesn’t cover people for being offended but it does give them the right to put their opinion forward. However, we work very hard [to adhere to the code] we work closely with internal and external advice, legal advice and we assess the campaign both on consumer law as well as advertising standards to make sure the work we produce sits within the code.

“We are in the process of compiling a response and we take [the process] very seriously. Our current record is in tact, we have never had any of our work pulled so we will work hard to prove our case and show that our intentions were not to offend but to be inclusive and present a unified Australia and allow the ASB board to, hopefully, rule in our favour,” said Howie.

The complaints place the MLA spring ad among the most complained about campaigns of the year, according to the ASB website.

It is not the first time that an MLA campaign has been investigated by the ASB, the brand’s 2016 spring lamb campaign also drew complaints as did its Australia Day campaign in the same year.

Both the ads were cleared by the ASB and were not found to have breached the AANA code.

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Danielle Long

Danielle Long is APAC Correspondent for The Drum with a remit to cover news from China, Australia and New Zealand. Danielle has 15 years experience as a marketing journalist and has worked on publications in the UK and Australia. She has interviewed some of the world’s leading marketing, advertising and creative brains and has written about almost every standout brand and marketing campaign from the last 15 years.

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