This article first appeared in the print edition of AdNews 18 September 2015.
Marketers operate in a dynamic, innovative and fast-paced industry that stimulates demand, thereby driving economic growth and job creation. This may seem obvious to you and me, but not everyone sees it that way.
The calls to regulate our business are getting louder, not just in Australia but across the world. Lobby groups proclaim that current advertising standards are failing the community. They argue that food and drink advertising is responsible for the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, that alcohol advertising leads to problem drinking, that bank advertising entices people into unmanageable debt and car advertising promotes bad driving. The list of perceived advertising evils is getting longer by the minute.
In Europe, from where it takes only 140 characters for any issue to migrate to our shores, the focus on advertising regulation is also ramping up. The EU Commission late last year appointed a new “first vice president” in charge of “better regulation”, with an explicit focus on addressing privacy concerns from digital advertising.
But the calls for further restrictions aren’t all category specific. Last year, the AANA together with the ASB and the OMA spent months lobbying and defending the self-regulation of outdoor advertising in Queensland after the Australian Christian Lobby persuaded the state government to launch a parliamentary enquiry into what they viewed as the regular occurrence of ‘sexually explicit’ outdoor advertising and its impact on children.
Despite a track record of low level of public complaints and high compliance with ASB decisions we faced a proposal from government for it to step in and co-regulate outdoor advertising in Queensland. Thankfully, it hasn’t come to that, yet. That is far from the first and it won’t be the last case of vocal minority groups trying to make government responsible for what can and cannot be advertised.
The AANA has moved quickly to ensure that digital marketing is subject to the same principles that govern traditional advertising. We have expanded the definition of advertising to encompass brand-owned websites and social media activity. But that hasn’t stopped detractors claiming that new media is ungoverned and rampant with unscrupulous marketing. We have to redouble our communication with regulators and the community to ensure that the scaremongering doesn’t become the perceived reality.
That’s not to deny that there are genuine public concerns about how we go to market, particularly in the digital space, concerning transparency and privacy.
In terms of transparency, practices such as native advertising are under the spotlight. We need to ensure that the legitimate drive to deliver entertaining and engaging content is not compromised by inadequate disclosure of who is responsible for the content.
For those of us who recognise that anti-advertising sentiment is gathering steam, what can we do about it?
The answer is collective responsibility and a willingness to hold each other to account. That is the core purpose for which the AANA was established 85 years ago to ensure that advertisers both act and are seen to act responsibly. It is no coincidence that the AANA’s membership has seen dramatic growth over the last three years. As consumer engagement has become more critical to business success, so too has the recognition that our right to commercial free speech is precious and the best way to guarantee its continuance is to demonstrate our determination to meet community expectations.
The AANA’s mandate on behalf of industry is to maintain and evolve our system of self-regulation of advertising to keep pace with new marketing techniques and evolving community standards. As advertisers and marketers we collectively made the commitment to Government to maintain the system and act with transparency and ethics, but it is also in our interest to do so.
Without self-regulation we leave ourselves open to enforced regulation which could unnecessarily restrict the way we communicate with our audiences, negatively impacting not just our brands and businesses but also the people we aim to communicate with.
Through the AANA, members are shaping the industry and promoting, defending and demonstrating how effective self-regulation can be.
Chief Executive Officer