CR228: A Content Analysis of Australian Motor Vehicle Advertising


The ‘Advertising for Motor Vehicles Voluntary Code of Practice’ (herein referred to as ‘the Code’) was introduced by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) to govern the content of motor vehicle advertisements.

The Code applied to new advertisements from the 8th of August 2002 and all advertisements from 1st of December 2002. The Code provides guidance to advertisers on themes and driving practices appropriate to depict in motor vehicle advertising. A revised version of the Code has since been developed and presented to the Ministers of the Australian Transport Council, coming into effect on the 1st of July, 2004.

The current project, coordinated by CARRS-Q in consultation with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and Queensland Transport, aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of the Australian code and its subsequent revision in regulating the content of motor vehicle advertising.

The study examined and compared advertisements:

  1. Prior to the Code's introduction (Pre-code)
  2. After the Code's introduction (Post-code)
  3. After the 2004 revision (Post-revision)

The content analysis coding framework was adapted from Ferguson, Hardy, & Williams (2003) study which had analysed U.S. TV advertisements for cars and minivans broadcast in 1988, 1993 and 1998. Some adjustments were made to make the sub-themes more relevant to Australia. Three trained coders analysed a set of 444 advertisements broadcast on Australian TV between 1999 and 2004.

The most encouraging result was that the occurrence of the primary themes of Performance and Exciting/Fun to drive, both of which have sub-themes which could be interpreted as encouraging unsafe driving, have diminished significantly since the code was introduced.   

Performance themes are still highly represented across all time periods, but showed a marked decrease since the revision of the Code in July 2004. Acceleration, Speed and Traction themes did not increase in occurrence over the period reviewed, though the Power performance sub-theme did increase.

Themes relating to general driving safety are represented in a very low proportion of advertisements. A gradual increase has occurred in the specific safety features such as Airbags and ABS since the Code's introduction and revision.

"Personal Experience" and "Performance Experience" themes, related to the thrill or pleasure of driving decreased. Incentives/Sales themes, related to discounts and additional feature offers, increased gradually and significantly across all three time periods. This may represent a movement away from other previously mentioned driving-based presentation methods.

The researchers also compared the messages identified in the content analysis of a selection of advertisements with those perceived by males aged 18-25 by asking groups of young people to report on messages they perceived. This was assessed through showing groups of young people a sample of the advertisements that had been used in the main project, and asking them to report what messages they perceived in the advertisements. Advertisements chosen were two advertisements with strong safety themes, two with strong performance themes and three advertisements with no particular emphasis. There was a high level of agreement between the coders and test groups regarding the perceptions of primary and secondary themes.

Download Complete Document: CR228 [PDFPDF: 483 KB]

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Sub Type: Consultant Report
Author(s): Mary Sheehan, Dale Steinhardt, Cynthia Schonfeld
Topics: Media, Speed
Publication Date: 30/06/06