An efficient, cost-effective approach to ethical marketing and advertising communications practices

Advertising and marketing self-regulation is a system by which the advertising, marketing, agency and media industry set voluntary rules and standards of practice that go beyond their legal obligations. Self-regulatory organizations (SROs) are responsible for enforcing industry’s commitment to these rules. They offer consumers increased protection and a cost-effective, accessible and responsive alternative to legal avenues. Depending on the country, SROs provide some or all of the following services to their communities: respond to complaints, monitor advertising, initiate their own investigations, give copy advice -- all aimed at efficiently helping prevent and correct problems.

The International Chamber of Commerce’s Consolidated ICC Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice is the gold standard for self-regulation. Since its introduction in 1937, it has served as the foundation and cornerstone for the codes of most self-regulatory systems around the world. In April 2011, it served as the foundation of the China Responsible Marketing Code endorsed by the Chinese advertising industry.

Examples of Implemented Self-Regulation

The world’s most effective self-regulatory systems have their voluntary codes enforced by a self-regulatory organization. The below examples of self-regulatory systems in the European Union and the United States and Latin America demonstrate the value of SROs in encouraging advertisers to implement self-regulatory ethical standards, enabling consumers to register complaints, and identifying issues that need rectification.

The three examples below are taken from;

  • Europe
  • South America
  • United States
  • Example from Europe

    EASA complaints recievedEuropean Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) is a non-profit organization comprised of SROs representing the advertising industry in Europe.

    An average of 53,116 complaints was brought to the attention of European SROs in the five-year period from 2006 to 2010.

    This number is far larger than is likely to realistically be addressed in one year through the official legal system. The magnitude of registered complaints suggests the ease with which consumers – the most frequent filers – can take advantage of the typically cost-free availability of an SRO. Over recent years, the outcome of complaints has stayed fairly constant, with about a third of the complaints found in breach of the advertising code while less than half of the complaints were not upheld, i.e. the advertiser was found to have behaved in accordance with the self-regulatory guidelines.

    *Not all “Complaints Received” are accounted for in the “Outcomes” graph from 2006 to 2009 because some SROs did not record detailed analyses of their received complaints and therefore could not provide EASA with complete information on the outcomes. In 2010, the outcomes of all complaints were recorded.

    Visit the EASA website

    Example from South America

    Consejo de Autorregulación Publicitaria (CONARP) is the Argentinian non-profit association that promotes the practice of advertising self-regulation in order to facilitate the responsible exercise of free commercial expression.

    Most of the complaints received over the last four years deal with the issue of social sensitivities and truthfulness. Television advertising consistently ranks as the leading cause for complaints filed.

    Example from US

    Children's Advertising review Unit (CARU), a division of the National Advertising Review Council (NARC), is the children's arm of the U.S. advertising industry's self-regulation program. It evaluates child-directed advertising and promotional material in all media to advance truthfulness, accuracy and consistency through compliance with its Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children's Advertising and relevant laws.

    CARU recognizes that the special nature and needs of a youthful audience require particular care and diligence on the part of advertisers. Consequently, CARU performs a high level of monitoring, including the scrutinizing of over ten thousand television commercials, and the review of advertisements in print, radio and online media. Its self-regulatory guidelines address issues including age restrictions on certain types of advertising and data collection, enhanced privacy protection, the need for parental approval, blurring of ads and program content, avoidance of sales pressure, and ensuring safe, age-appropriate products and messages.

    In addition to evaluating ads in response to complaints, CARU takes an active role in initiating its own reviews. Each year since 2008, the number of advertisements that CARU identified as problematic has dramatically decreased, indicating that advertisers are taking self-regulation seriously and are using CARU's guidance to avoid issues.

    Visit the CARU website

    Latest News

    Latest News