How the FCAI Code of Conduct Drives Compliant Car Ads

05 July 2024

Plexus fcai code of conduct car header

Cars, four-wheel drives and other types of motor vehicles are some of the most prominently advertised products in mainstream media, requiring any marketing material to be firmly regulated. In Australia, this is handled by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI for short) in a self-regulatory manner. Of course, these ads must also comply with the AANA Code of Ethics.

When automotive advertising is considered by the public to be in breach of FCAI’s Code of Conduct, Ad Standards make rulings on whether a complaint is upheld or dismissed. With that in mind, let’s go over some key considerations to keep your next car ad compliant.

What does the FCAI Code of Conduct cover?

The FCAI Code of Conduct covers all forms of motor vehicle advertising that is created by or on behalf of the manufacturer or brand and designed to attract public attention to a brand, product or service.

Conversely, this means internally facing material, such as corporate reports and public policy statements, is exempt from regulation as they are considered to be “excluded advertising and marketing communications”.

The FCAI Code of Conduct’s three key clauses

These are the summarised terms of the three major clauses within the FCAI Code of Conduct that advertisers need to comply with to ensure their marketing material meets standards.

Clause 2(a): Unsafe driving

Motor vehicle advertising at its core should not contradict Australian road rules nor undermine efforts to improve public road safety. A major cause of road deaths in Australia is speed, which is commonly associated with car performance. The FCAI discourages advertisers from highlighting speed as a unique selling point as it can be considered a root cause of unsafe driving.

Clause 3: Use of motor sport in advertising

Motor sport is always on the agenda for car advertising as vehicles used for racing events typically represent the pinnacle of manufacturers’ products. However, in the interests of marketing compliance, depictions of vehicles being used for competitive driving should be depicted in context; for example, on an enclosed racetrack. Furthermore, this portrayal should not be associated with the normal use of vehicles driven on public roads.

Clause 4: Depiction of off-road vehicles

Driving vehicles off-road is not an uncommon use case for many regions around Australia, so there is some “limited flexibility” when it comes to advertising in this area. While advertisers are allowed to demonstrate the off-road capabilities of vehicles in a legitimate manner, they still have to take care not to depict the driving or use in an unsafe way.

What do Ad Standards make their considerations under?

Section 2.6 of the AANA Code of Ethics states:

Advertising shall not depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.

This section covers human behaviours, including drug and alcohol use, portrayals of body image and mental health, depictions of social interactions (such as the workplace), and motor vehicle use. As this can be a fairly broad category, the FCAI Code of Conduct was developed to regulate some finer details to remove ambiguity around what could be considered unsafe motor vehicle use.

Complaints that Ad Standards won’t review

As most car brands sold in Australia are from international manufacturers, supplied visual content might portray non-Australian number plates (or none at all) and/or vehicles with left-hand drive. Ad Standards does not consider these scenarios to be reasonable grounds to uphold complaints as they do not pertain specifically to road and occupant safety.

Other general considerations

Besides the above stipulations of the FCAI Code of Conduct, advertisers should ensure their material is not in breach of the AANA Code of Ethics. For example, manufacturers should not be misleading in their performance claims, including safety and sustainability figures.

As a point of trivia, car makers also need to be accurate in categorising their vehicles, which is defined as part of the Australian Design Rules. Did you know an off-road vehicle is classified as “a passenger vehicle with up to nine seating positions including that of the driver” and “will normally have four-wheel drive”? A vehicle with any more than nine seating positions then is considered an omnibus, which then also has further subcategories.

Advertisers also need to be mindful that their portrayal of people doesn’t vilify or discriminate against any specific demographic such as women or minorities. Breaching this has previously caused motor vehicle ads to be removed or modified after Ad Standards withheld complaints made.

The times car ads got it wrong

Naturally, there have been occasions when motor advertising stirred controversy. Looking through the specific lens of FCAI, here are three examples of when car ads were found to breach Section 2.6 of the AANA Code of Ethics. As demonstrated below, it can happen at all corners of the market:

Supercheap Auto (2023)

This television ad depicted a professional driver in a race car doing burnouts around a man on a fictional suburban street. Despite the exaggerated situation and intentionally humorous overtones, plus full disclosure that this was not a likely scenario in real life, Ad Standards noted this was still a “demonstration of illegal driving behaviour”.

See case here.

eBay (2024)

A website banner image on auction website eBay showed a mechanic approaching to work on a precariously perched car. While the imagery was intended to promote selling cars on the platform and not as an illustrative example of how to secure a motor vehicle, Ad Standards agreed with the complaint that it portrayed unsafe work practices.

See case here.

Volvo (2021)

Volvo demonstrated their “Lane Keeping Aid” feature in a commercial by steering a car back into its lane as a result of its driver briefly closing their eyes and approaching the road’s middle line. Ad Standards upheld the complaint that this was a portrayal of driver fatigue, a leading cause of road deaths in Australia.

See case here.

The drive-away of advertising motor vehicles in Australia

In short, motor vehicle advertisers need to abide by the FCAI Code of Conduct and AANA Code of Ethics to ensure that their marketing material doesn’t breach compliance. While there is still some room for interpretation in the interests of creative expression, the core consideration is to ensure no material encourages or justifies unsafe driving.

Avoid Appearing Before Ad Standards

Plexus Marketing Suite is powered by a team of promotional law experts that can help flag your promotion's potential risks and offer advice to help avoid negative outcomes. Advertising Wizard guarantees your marketing activities meet all the necessary compliance requirements while eliminating approval bottlenecks, all within 24 hours.

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