One of Australia’s largest advertisers has refused to run a national billboard campaign highlighting the deepening pay gap between lower-paid workers and top executives.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) recently unveiled its eight-week campaign to overhaul workplace laws so that workers have more secure jobs and higher wages.
But billboard company APN Outdoor has denied the union access to advertising space on buses across Australia’s major capital cities.
ACTU chief of staff Ben Davison said APN Outdoor – a company which has access to more than 36,000 different sites in Australia and New Zealand – has refused to display the adverts due to the content being “too negative”.
“Apparently a story based on the lived experience of working people … is too negative to put on the back of a bus,” Mr Davidson said.
He said ACTU’s ‘Change the Rules’ campaign – its biggest campaign in a decade – is designed to highlight the failure of industrial laws and the disadvantage they have created for workers.
“We’re clearly calling out CEOs and large corporations and APN has a CEO who does earn a salary in the millions.”
The ACTU was told at the last minute that the ads would not run, Mr Davison said.
“APN had previously approved the ads and their content,” he said.
“The ACTU believes the rejection arose after the ads were shown to senior management.”
A spokesperson for APN Outdoor told The New Daily the adverts were rejected on the basis they carried a political message.
Therefore APN Outdoor is “unable to run this on any government site. A bus back is a government advertising site as the bus is owned by the state government”, the spokesperson said.
Dr Sven Tuzovic, a senior lecturer at the School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations at the QUT Business School, said the comment that the ads were “too negative” may suggest that APN tries to determine who may be offended.
Dr Martin Williams, lecturer in corporate communications and advertising at the University of Technology Sydney, said this may simply be an “honourable” way out of a deal that would have likely conflicted with its commercial interests.
If the advert is “offensive” to most of its client base, then APN Outdoor may shy away from displaying the ads to avoid a loss of profit by dissatisfying shareholders and other investors, Dr Williams said.
“It may be that APN finds the advertising offensive in which case they won’t run it.”
Dr Williams said that was a “much more likely” reason why APN Outdoor may have refused to provide ACTU with national coverage of its ‘Change the Rules’ campaign.
ACTU’s Mr Davison said he was “very disappointed” about APN Outdoor’s decision to pull the ads.
“These are not ads that contain any swearing, they don’t contain violence, they’re not in any way sexist or pornographic.”
He said the adverts hoped to ignite discussion about income inequality.
“Australians should feel very concerned that there are people who control what they can and can’t see and are making decisions for them about content and whether it is too negative for Australians too see.”