International Control of Advertising

In a previous section specific legal restrictions on advertising were presented. Here broader issues related to the past, present and future of the international regulation of advertising are considered.

Consumer criticisms of advertising are not a phenomenon of the US markets only. Consumer concern with the standards and believability of advertising may have spread around the world more swiftly than have many marketing techniques. A study of a representative sample of European consumers indicated that only half of them believed advertisements gave consumers any useful information. Six of ten believed that advertising meant higher prices (if a product is heavily advertised, it often sells far more than brands that are seldom, or never advertised); nearly eight of ten believed advertising often made them buy things they did not really need, and that ads often were deceptive about product quality. In Hong Kong, Colombia, and Brazil, advertising fared much better than in Europe. The non European praised advertising as a way to obtain valuable information about products. Most Brazilians consider ads entertaining and enjoyable.

European community officials are establishing directives to provide controls on advertising as cable and satellite broadcasting expands. Deception in advertising is a thorny issue since most member countries have different interpretations of what constitutes a misleading advertisement. Demands for regulations of advertising aimed at young consumers are a trend appearing in both industrialized and developing countries.

Decency and the blatant use of sex in advertisement also are receiving public attentions. One of the problems in controlling decency and sex in ads is the cultural variations found around the world. An ad perfectly acceptable to a Westerner may be very offensive to someone from the mid east or for that matter, another Westerner. Standards for appropriate behavior as depicted in advertisements vary for culture to culture. Regardless of these variations, concern about decency sex and ads that demean women and men is growing. International advertising is striving to forestall laws by imposing self regulation but it may be too late; some countries are passing laws that will define acceptable standards.

The difficulty that business has with self regulation and restrictive laws is that sex can be powerful in some types of advertisements. European advertisement for Haagane Dazs, a premium US ice cream marketer and Lap power a Swedish laptop computer company, received criticism for being too sexy. Haagen Dazs ad showed a couple in various stages of undress, in an embrace feeding ice cream to one another. Some British editorial writers and radio commentators were outraged. One commented that the ad was the most blatant and inappropriate use of sex as a sales aid. The ad for laptop personal computers that the Stockholm business Council on Ethics condemned featured the co-owner of the company with an inviting smile and provocation demeanor displayed. (Wearing a low cut dress, she was bending over a Lap Power computer). The bottom line for both these companies was increased sales. In Britain, ice cream sales soared after the Dedicated to pleasure ads appeared and in Sweden the co-owner stated, sales are increasing daily. Whether laws are passed or the industry policies, advertising and its effect on people’s behavior have engendered international concern.

Advertising regulations are not limited to Europe; there is an enhanced awareness of the expansion of mass communications and the perceived need to affect greater control in developing countries as well. Malaysia consistently regulates TV advertising to control the effect of the excesses of Western ways. The government has become so concerned that it will not allow Western cultural images to appear in TV commercials. No bare householders or exposed armpits are allowed, no touching or kissing scenes, sexy clothing or blue jeans. These are just a few of prohibitions spelled out in a 41 page advertising code that the Malaysian government has been compiling for more than 10 years.