Sexpo ads then and now ... Above is the ad used in 2010 and below is the ad used in 2013. Photo: Supplied
No sex please. We're Queenslanders.
At least that is the impression from the overwhelming majority of submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into sexually explicit outdoor advertising – and whether the state needs a classification system.
“Can we not sit on the train or bus and enjoy some nice scenery instead of having these billboards in your face?” questions Helen Dowling, who suggests people having issues in the bedroom visit their GP.
Julie Robinson wrote to the committee to express her “disgust” over the Rip and Roll campaign, and condom advertisements in general, and shared a recent anecdote about a discussion she had with someone who questioned her concern.
“I said I was aware of the huge rise in STDs but my view is that it is not due to a lack of condom advertising, but rather the fact that too many people are engaging in sexual activity too young and with too many partners. I said there are places to advertise condoms and it's not in the public spaces,” she said.
Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie had already raised his concerns over outdoor advertising when Katter Party MP Shane Knuth introduced the Classification of Publications (Billboard Advertising) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill in May.
The inquiry, undertaken by the Health and Community Affairs parliamentary committee aims to investigate whether the legislation is needed.
Charmaine Moldrich, the CEO of the Outdoor Media Association, says no.
“It is a difference between people's perceptions and reality,” Ms Moldrich said, adding that if Queensland went ahead with the classification system, it would be the only state in Australia to do so.
A similar push for a ratings system was rejected at a federal level in 2011.
“In the last three years, we have put in some very stringent measures with our membership to really reduce the number of sexually explicit advertising,” Ms Moldrich said.
Ms Moldrich said the majority of advertisements that people cite when complaining about outdoor advertising – including Sexpo and those for sex shops – would not run in 2013.
“In 2010 we ran 30,000 campaigns across Australia. Out of those, eight campaigns breached [Advertising Standards Bureau rules] – in the area of sexuality and nudity.
“So 99.98 per cent were fine, but that 0.2 per cent was creating a lot of tension for the industry and advertisers in the community, because those eight ads were not seen in relation to the other 29,992 campaigns out there. They were only seen in relationship to each other.”
Ms Moldrich said while what was considered sexually explicit could be a “subjective area”, the outdoor advertising peak body had fallen into the assumption trap and believed their members understood where the lines were.
An educational program was put in place, along with a content review program and a concept advisory service was established for members who still had queries.
“In 2012 we breached three times, but none of those were in the area of sexuality and nudity,” Ms Moldrich said.
“This year we haven't breached once.”
Ms Moldrich pointed to the difference in the Sexpo ads between 2010 and 2013 as an example of how the industry had learnt and moved forward.
Dr David Waller, a senior lecturer in Marketing at University of Technology Sydney's Business School, said outdoor advertising rated third for complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau, behind television and the internet.
But he said the accessibility of the advertisements often raised hackles as well as questions.
“A long running issue about outdoor advertising has been questions on measuring its effectiveness,” he said.
“How effective is a billboard located next to a highway? It is difficult to judge. The same with a billboard's effect on children. While this can be hard to quantify, having sexual images so available can be seen as adding to the desensitisation of sexual images and being another touch point that shows the sexualisation of women.”
The committee is due to report back to parliament with the findings of its inquiry by early next year.