The number of advertisements is steadily increasing around the world as affluence grows and more societies shift to market economies. One way to ensure that these adverts are truthful, accurate, and wholesome is to rely on industry self-regulation. There is no pan-European advertising code but each EU country has a set of national rules or principles which are suitable for advertising practice according to the local culture, economy and society. These rules are often heavily based on the ICC's code of advertising practice. Where there are no national rules, the ICC principles are most often applied.
The advent of the single European market has highlighted the need for a system of complaint investigation in relation to campaigns which cross national boundaries. For the online environment the situation is not yet fully clear. If companies are to be made responsible for applying advertising codes and hearing complaints, an effective clearing system needs to be established. Some countries operate advisory services which allow advertising agencies and advertisers to submit scripts and/or story-boards before commencing production. Advice on potential problems at an early stage, avoids companies having to engage in expensive and time consuming modifications to commercials. This screening process seems to be reducing public complaints about advertisements and is argued to be vital if a service provider is to be held responsible for complaint resolution.
The ICC Code of Advertising Standards states that all advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. The Code applies to commercial advertisements, which promote the sale of a product or service, but not to non-commercial advertisements, which express the advertiser's position on a political, religious, industrial relations, social or aesthetic matter or an issue of public concern. There are also specific 'Guidelines on Advertising and Marketing on the Internet'. The ICC Code of Advertising Standards states that all advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. The Code applies to commercial advertisements, which promote the sale of a product or service, but not to non-commercial advertisements, which express the advertiser's position on a political, religious, industrial relations, social or aesthetic matter or an issue of public concern. There are also specific 'Guidelines on Advertising and Marketing on the Internet'.
The Commission has said that it is not in favour of an EU wide ban on television advertising aimed at children. The conditions any such a ban would have to meet relate to scientific evidence justifying the ban and a ban could not be solely restricted to television as this would mean discrimination. The ban would have to be applied to the Internet and in video games as well.
On advertising concerning certain products the EU is active in the field of tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical products. In May 2001 the Commission published a draft directive on tobacco advertising and in July 2001 adopted a draft directive on medicinal products for human use. A directive on advertising of alcoholic beverages is waiting a Council common position.
The draft proposal for a directive on tobacco advertising proposes that tobacco advertising by means of information society services and radio broadcasting should be regulated at EU level and be prohibited.
The draft directive on medicinal products for human use proposes that all marketing information provided by companies should be subject to the approval of the European Medicines Evaluation Agency, which will then be authorised for publication on the Internet and in medical publications.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is the world's foremost developer of self-regulatory codes of ethical conduct for advertising and marketing practices. The ICC believes that advertising and marketing should reflect the highest standards of ethical conduct as laid down in the ICC International Code of Advertising Practice and other relevant ICC self-regulatory Codes. On 10 August 2001 the ICC has set up an interpretation service for the ICC marketing codes - key documents for the advertising industry on which national codes used by professional associations worldwide are based.
The Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) points out that advertising must have regard to tradition, culture, language which are different from one country to another even in a Single Market. It states this is a good reason to apply the principle of subsidiarity strictly and leave regulation to the Member States or to self-regulation by business circles.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) believes that Europe should have a distinctive approach to consider advertising/information on the internet even though it recognises the difficulties with a media as the internet because of its global nature. Europe already has a distinct approach on e.g. advertisement on television in children's programmes in order to protect certain groups of citizens and thinks that such an approach must be possible in the global environment.
The Federation of European Direct Marketing (FEDMA) is working on an overall plan for developing self-regulation of e-commerce ("The Ring of Confidence"), a main driver behind the creation of consumer trust. In addition to the Code of Conduct for E-Commerce and Interactive Marketing, FEDMA is developing a European Guarantee Seal (trustmark), enforcement mechanisms, monitoring and surveillance, software tools, and awareness campaigns.
The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) stresses the role of self-regulation as a global objective for the years to come.