Business owner calls out “political correctness” of advertising watchdog after it rules Australia Day ads “ridicule” Muslims

Article by Dominic Powell /
Smart Company /
February 27, 2017 /
Click here to view original /

The owner of a fishing supplies shop says he believes the Advertising Standards Board is “falling into line with political correctness” after two of his company’s ads were found to “ridicule” Muslims.

Trelly’s Tackle World Shepparton released two advertisements for an Australia Day campaign in January, one for television and the other for print media.

The television advertisement depicts a man sitting in a chair with a fishing rod surrounded by Australian flags. He says, “G’Day Australia. Here at Trelly’s we welcome all new Australians, especially those ones who assimilate”.

A number of products from the store are then advertised, and the advertisement ends with the man requesting another person, who is off-screen, to get him a beer, saying, “Hey Habib, get me another beer while you’re there”.

A complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) labelled the television advertisement as “discriminatory and racist”.

“In my opinion, the ad is discriminatory and racist. I believe the ad specifically points to ‘the assimilation’ of immigrants/refugees and then asks for ‘Habib’ to get him another drink,” the complainant said.

In conjunction with the television ad, Trelly’s also ran a print advertisement, which featured product advertisements and an offer of free pork kebabs with the tag “1 day only! Halal or Haram”.

Another complainant told the ASB the ad was “incredibly offensive”, due to the complainant’s belief it was attacking Muslims and being Islamophobic.

“The use of the words ‘PORK kebabs’ is offensive because it is well-known that kebabs are a key food in cultures that are predominantly Muslim and that kebabs in Australia are associated with the world halal and Islam in general,” said the complainant.

“This is an initiative to exclude Muslims from Australia Day celebrations and to suggest that Muslims are not Australians and are not welcomed.”

Both complaints were made under area 2.1 of the Advertising Code of Ethics, which relates to discrimination or vilification of religion.

In a response to both complaints, the business defended the advertisements and said they were “deeply offended”.

“[The complainant] remarked as to me aggressively attacking Muslims, yet I have not used the term Muslim at all,” the business responded in regards to the print advertisement.

“[The complainant] goes on to say that kebabs are a food key in some cultures and predominantly Muslim but does not go as far as to say that kebabs are exclusive to some cultures and that a kebab cannot be made out of pork.”

The response then continues to define different types and styles of kebabs, noting, “there is nowhere that I have found that a kebab cannot be made without pork”.

The business also defended the television ad.

“In fact I know of Muslims that eat pork, drink and deal in alcohol and whose families settled in this great country over 50 years ago,” the response reads.

“These same people saw fit to assimilate in Australia and by that I mean abide by Australian Laws. My ad did not in any way suggest that anyone who abides by our Laws is not welcome in Australia as [The complainant] writes.”

Read more: Subaru pulls TV ad deemed “highly offensive” to indigenous Australians

ASB upholds complaints, says ad “humiliates and ridicules”

However, the advertising standards board upheld the complaints, ordering the business to cease displaying both ads.

Noting the offer of free pork kebabs was not a breach of the Code, the board clarified its position that the offer in conjunction with the word “haram”, which means forbidden, “is clearly targeting Muslims in a manner intended to provoke a reaction”.

“The Board considered that the advertisement humiliates and ridicules Muslims in its suggestion that they would or could eat pork,” the ASB said.

“The Board considered that the advertisement did portray or depict material in a way which vilifies a person or section of the community on account of religion and determined that the advertisement did breach Section 2.1 of the Code.”

A similar decision was made regarding Trelly’s television advertisement, with the ASB noting the negative connotations associated with the term “assimilate”.

“The Board noted the strong negative connotations of assimilation and considered that the advertisement’s suggestion that by assimilating (taking on the habits, attitudes and way of life of another culture) you are more welcome in Australia than those who don’t is encouraging unfair or less favourable treatment of a person based on their race or nationality of birth,” the ASB said.

The board also noted the suggestion of Habib getting a beer was vilifying as abstinence from alcohol is a part of Islam and would “incite contempt” for a key part of the faith.

The ASB also upheld the complaint against the television advertisement.

The business expected complaints

Whilst the business committed to not airing the advertisements, Trelly’s owner Steven Threlfall told SmartCompany in a statement he expected to receive complaints about the ad.

“This is only one of many adds [sic] over the last 30 years I have produced, many of which have taken the piss out of political correctness, groups and cultures. I think I’m actually getting better at it and if I haven’t offended you yet wait for my next add [sic],” Threlfall told SmartCompany.

“The advertising governing body are only responding to the complaints they receive but I do feel they are also falling into line with political correctness as to their opinion,” he says.

“It seems that minority groups are influencing these types of decision makers in a way that gives a bad meaning to our Australian Freedom of speech and right to reply.”

Companies should keep on top of recent Ad Standards rulings

Despite the advertisements never explicitly stating they were about Muslims or Islam, advertising expert and academic Lauren Rosewarne told SmartCompany the reference in this case was clear.

“You don’t need to mention Islam for an ad that uses words include Halal and Haram to be understood as a reference to faith,” Rosewarne says.

Rosewarne believes referencing themes like Islam or other religions are “almost never” a good idea when it comes to advertising.

“We’re at a period of time where there are heightened sensitivities regarding hot-button identity issues such as gender, sexuality and, in this case, faith,” she says.

“In light of this, advertisers need to ask themselves whether there is any genuine necessity to reference such themes in advertising: my hunch is that there is almost never a time when such themes are useful in marketing.”

Advertisers should be keeping on top of the cases upheld by the ASB in order to understand what’s on and avoid bad publicity, Rosewarne says.

“Advertisers need to keep abreast of the kinds of complaints the ASB are receiving and to ask themselves whether the bad publicity that often comes from an upheld complaint is, in anyway, advantageous to their brand.