Integrity and good governance

Marketing and advertising

ICC provides guidance on the ever-changing landscape of modern marketing and advertising issues, promoting effective self-regulation that is harmonized to best practice around the world.

For further information please contact

  • Georgiana DEGERATUPolicy Manager – Marketing and Advertising • Global PolicyContact by email

Why self-regulation in marketing and advertising? 

ICC promotes the benefits of self-regulation as a means to secure consumer trust and preserve a dynamic marketplace where innovation flourishes.  A system by which the advertising, marketing and media industry set voluntary rules and standards of practice that go beyond their legal obligations, self-regulation builds trust with consumers by ensuring advertising that is honest, legal, decent and truthful. 

First introduced in 1937 and implemented in over 35 countries to date, the Consolidated ICC Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice is the gold standard for self-regulation and has served as the cornerstone most self-regulatory systems in existence today. 

The ICC codes remain relevant due to its flexibility in local law application and culture while being regularly updated and adapted to address new practice and technology developments.  The codes are produced with wide consultation among industry representatives and experts within ICC membership and beyond it to ensure widespread support and consensus. 

Digital Marketing Communication 

The continuing rapid evolution digital media, triggered mostly by the availability of devices creates new opportunities and avenues that has led to the exponential growth of digital advertising. 

An increasing portion of advertising stems from businesses employing Online Behavioural Advertising (OBA) to tailor advertising for Internet users which raises concern with regards to consumer privacy and data protection. Such implications are important considerations for responsible communications. 

Through the ICC Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice Code, ICC addresses these issue with the inclusion of the first globally applicable rules for OBA that provides ethical guidelines to protect consumers and encourages businesses to achieve socially responsible standards including:  

  • Clear and transparent mechanisms to enable consumers to choose not to have their data collected for advertising or marketing purposes; 
  • Clear indication that a social network site is commercial and is under the control or influence of a marketer; 
  • Limits are set so that marketers communicate directly only when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the consumer has an interest in what is being offered; 
  • Respect for the rules and standards of acceptable commercial behaviour in social networks and the posting of marketing messages only when the forum or site has clearly indicated its willingness to receive them; 
  • Special attention and protection for children. 

What is Online Behavioural Advertising (OBA)? 

OBA refers to the practice of collecting information about a user’s online activity over time, on a particular device and across different, unrelated websites, in order to deliver advertisements tailored to that user’s interests and preferences. 

The guidance on use of OBA by website operators and third parties, as stated in the ICC code includes:   

  • Clear and conspicuous notice regarding if and how OBA data collection is used. Notice should include the type of data collected and the purpose for collecting it; 
  • Having an easy-to-use mechanism to let consumers decide about the collection and use of their data for OBA purposes; 
  • Obtaining explicit consumer consent for OBA in all cases of collecting and using data via technologies or practices intended to harvest that data from all or almost all websites visited by a particular computer or device across multiple web domains; 
  • Obtaining explicit consumer consent for creation and use of OBA segments relying on sensitive data; 
  • Maintenance of appropriate physical, electronic and administrative security and data protection safeguards; 
  • Prohibition of segments designed to target children 12 and younger. 

In addition, ICC brings experts together to consider new issues raised by digital marketing techniques or platforms to help inform and advise policymakers on global business perspectives and recommendations. 

Among them is the Working Group on Digital Media which developed the Resource Guide for Self-Regulation of Online Behavioural Advertising as a useful companion piece to the global principles on online behavioural advertising (OBA) published in the Code. 

How is the marketing world reacting to the public’s desire for a ‘greener’ and ‘more sustainable’ world? 

In the past few years, the global community has grown increasingly concerned about the environment, demanding more relevant information about the impact of products to the environment.  Businesses have responded to this demand with efforts to improve their environmental footprint as these considerations play a more prominent role in consumer purchasing decisions. 

However, business endeavors have been met with criticisms of overstatement or misrepresentation of the environmental benefits, attributes of a product or service, or the impact of a company’s practices on the environment.  Often characterized as “greenwashing” by critics, these vague, unsubstantiated, or misleading claims have the potential to both undermine consumer confidence and penalize business that genuinely practice responsible, truthful and non-deceptive advertising. 

ICC has responded to this call by developing a global Framework for Responsible Environmental Marketing Communications, a guidance document for business to help marketers respond to the growing complexity of environmental or “green” marketing claims, including general claims of “sustainability” as well new emerging climate-related, circularity, recyclable content, degradability and additional “free-of” claims. 

The Framework offers more detailed interpretation of the environmental claims chapter of the general code and a checklist to help marketers and their agencies evaluate claims, ensure that the messages  hold up to the basic principles of honest and socially responsible communications, while maintaining consumer confidence.

Why should marketing and advertising to Children be more nuanced? 

Advertising is the vehicle through which consumers become informed of goods and services that are of interest to them, so is central to economic growth.  An overarching principle of the ICC Code is that marketing communications must be legal, decent, honest and truthful, considering how the communication is likely to be interpreted by the primary target audience. 

Children today are media savvy, enjoying wide access to technology, diverse marketing and advertising platforms, as well as entertainment and modern culture.  While there are many benefits to this early exposure, their inexperience to critically reflect on received information make children more vulnerable to harmful, potentially deceptive and offensive information. 

ICC recognizes that children and teens are distinct groups and advertisers should be especially diligent in protecting these young consumers and marketing communications need to be responsible and sensitive to children’s needs and levels of understanding.  ICC considers “children” to be 12 and younger, while “teens” or “young people” are individuals 13 – 18 (age 18 is generally considered the age of majority in many jurisdictions).  

The Consolidated ICC Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice provides guidelines with respect to marketing communication addressed to children to ensure responsible marketing communications, in addition to other relevant guidance. The rules take into consideration the inexperience and credulity of children as well as the social and cultural values of society. 

One particular point of concern is childhood obesity. In the US, for example, children are especially vulnerable to food marketing which leads to problems such as child obesity and unhealthy eating habits, an alarmingly growing challenge among this segment of the population.  To address these issues and help advertisers and marketers to comply with the principles of responsible marketing communication, ICC has developed the Framework for Responsible Food and Beverage Marketing Communications, setting out the principles for regulation of responsible food and beverage marketing communication related to children. 

ICC encourages marketers and advertisers to follow these principles and meet their obligation towards responsible, honest and decent marketing communication to children.