Here I have tried to expand the view of the American regulatory framework begun in the last issue. We begin with an interview with Oliver Gray, Director General of the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA). This group was formed after an informal process that responded to the formation of the Single Market in Europe. Though there was considerable concern at that moment to attempt to standardize commercial communication rules across national borders, the evolution over the past twenty years has demonstrated that the individual national sensitivities and regulatory requirements remain different enough to require nation-level attention. Nevertheless, the EASA has become an important adjudicator for complaints against advertising across Europe.
The European environment differs from the American situation in one very important way: regulation is not limited to questions of truthful representation, but also expands to cover issues of taste and decency. Consequently, the original article by Kimberly Sugden, “Benetton Backlash: Does controversy sell sweaters?” is an excellent illustration of the variation of standards across borders in Europe. The Benetton campaign, which has consistently been represented through their logo paired with one single image, has been among the most controversial in advertising history. Yet some advertisements have elicited vastly different responses, with a single ad perhaps winning an award in one country being banned in another.
Stephan Loerke, Managing Director of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) provides a sense of the ever expanding challenges of regulation in a rapidly expanding market. The WFA works to advise and assist advertisers on a global level with issues of regulation, including both truthfulness and decency questions. In the global context, this regulatory body must come to grips with much more variation in local norms, as well as the striking differences in the level of government infrastructure that underpins the self-regulatory approach. This fascinating conversation emphasized for me, once again, that the premises of self-regulation, persuasive as they may be, nevertheless do require a basic sense of shared ethical standards within industry, as well as a government ready to police claims where the consensus approach has failed.
The last interview, with Carla Michelotti Executive Vice President and Chief Legal, Government & Corporate Affairs Officer Leo Burnett Worldwide, anticipates the attempt to coordinate police mechanisms by international bodies, such as the World Health Organization, rather than national governments alone. Building on her experience with the expansion of the advertising regulation reach of the 1970s in the United States (particularly as described by Molly Niesen in our last issue), Michelotti warns of a coming “perfect storm” in which multiple international bodies would try to regulate advertising speech.
This set of materials significantly expands the American perspective begun in the last issue. We will continue to build this perspective over the coming year, with additional contributions on regulation in other parts of the world.
Linda M. Scott
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