An international telecommunications provider has agreed to replace a poster advertisement after the advertising watchdog ruled the image did not comply with Australian road safety rules.
The ad is from European company Lebara Mobile, which has operated in Australia since it launched into the country in 2009.
Advertising a Lebara 5G mobile plan, the poster at Sydney’s Town Hall train station featured a man and woman on a stationary motorbike without helmets. The man is sitting on the bike, while the woman is standing up behind him with her hands outstretched.
One consumer complained to the Advertising Standards Board in August by simply pointing out that the “two people on the motorbike are not wearing helmets”.
“The rear passenger appears to be standing up off her seat,” they said.
Lebara responded to the complaint by telling the Ad Standards Board the ad was intended to convey the “freedom” of the specific mobile phone plan, which includes 5G of data, unlimited national phone calls and text messages and limited amount of free international calls.
In response to the safety concerns around people standing on a motorbike or riding a motorbike without a helmet, the company said the same image had been used in its promotions in other countries.
“Indeed, it is an image that was taken overseas and conveys a couple perhaps on holidays, outside of Australia, where motorcycle laws are more relaxed,” Lebara said.
“The advertisement does not feature minors and it does not show any unsafe practices, it does not convey the persons other than in a stationary position, the couple’s hair or clothing do not appear to be moving and the hat on the girl is fixed to her head (which would unlikely remain on her head if the bike was moving at any speed).
“There are no other persons or cars featured nearby, nor is it clear that they are even on a street,” the company added.
“The advertisement is merely used as a way to convey a sense of freedom and being carefree, typical of a person on a holiday.”
However, the Ad Standards Board said the parts of the advertising code of conduct that refer to “prevailing community standards on health and safety” refer to standards in Australia, “regardless of what the laws are in the country where an advertisement was made or originally shown”.
The watchdog deferred to the Australian Road Rules, which state that riders of motorbikes must wear a helmet, even if the bike is stationary.
The exception is if the bike is parked, however, the Ad Standards Board said “as the couple are both on the motor bike, there is a strong suggestion that the bike is not parked but is in the process of being used”.
The board said the image of a motorbike passenger standing up with outstretched arms is also a depiction of unsafe behaviour, and because of these reasons, the ad breached the advertising code.
Lebara said it accepts the board’s decision and is “in the process of finalising new advertising to replace existing advertisements”.
Understand advertising standards in different markets
Ampersand Legal principal Narissa Corrigan, who advises businesses on legal requirements for advertising and marketing, told SmartCompany advertisers regularly run into problems with road safety in advertisements.
In this case, she says Lebara was not able to make the case that the image was acceptable because the laws are different in its home region of Europe.
“If they are running campaigns here, the ads they are using must comply with local laws,” she says.
Corrigan says the Ad Standards Board may have taken a different view had it been clear the couple in the photo were posing in front of a well-known overseas landmark, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
But as a general rule, she says businesses should apply a “sanity check” when considering the advertising material they plan to use in other countries.
The same goes for Australian firms advertising in international markets, Corrigan says.
“Locally produced content would still need to past the standards,” she says.
“The cost of changing an ad might not be worth it.”
SmartCompany contacted Lebara but did not receive a response prior to publication.
On Tuesday, Vodafone Hutchison Australia revealed plans to acquire Lebara’s Australian assets, however, the acquisition is yet to be finalised.