Ad industry takes steps to improve global image

Polls show public wants regulation

The global advertising industry on Monday committed to improving its image and regulating itself as it battles growing anti-brand and anti-corporate sentiments.

The World Federation of Advertisers said it wants to give consumers more of a stake in advertising by boosting the complaints process and generating more feedback.

The pledge comes after a recent Gallup Poll in the U.S. found only 10% of those polled rated the ethics of advertisers as "very high" or "high." The advertiser beat the "ever-ridiculed used-car salesman" by a single point.

Another U.S. poll asked the public to list the top five areas requiring governmental regulation. Tops was water pollution, followed by toxic waste, air pollution, advertising and nuclear safety.

WFA managing director Stephan Loerke said the sector needs to commit to responsible advertising at a time when marketing communications have an increasingly cross-border dimension and emerging economies are becoming fast-growing advertising markets.

"Effective advertising self-regulation plays a critical role in ensuring consumer trust in many countries," he said. "At a time when new technologies and new markets are driving significant changes in our industry, we need to ensure effective advertising self-regulation exists in all markets."

The WFA's measures include: boosting consumer awareness about the self-regulatory system; speeding and simplifying the complaint process and the removal of advertisements that breach the codes; setting up a transparent adjudication process; and involving non-industry figures in the self-regulatory process to raise outward credibility and trust in the system.

The WFA encompasses 55 national advertiser associations, bringing more than 10,000 businesses under one umbrella. It has also brought together other industry groups, including the International Chamber of Commerce and the European Advertising Standards Alliance to help improve regulation in such emerging markets as Eastern Europe and China, where there are few rules on what advertisers can say.

Loerke admitted that attacking advertising has become fashionable "not just among consumer and pressure groups but in society as a whole," and that some regulators see restricting advertising as a populist and vote-winning policy measure. But he warned that advertising is also the main source of revenue for most programming and events.

While many lobbyists and regulators want to ban advertising on children's television channels, they remain unaware of the extent to which advertising finances children's programming on free-to-air TV, he said.