ICC Marketing Commission assesses challenges and growth of digital media

  • 6 July 2009

Governments in both the United States and around Europe have warned digital marketers to regulate themselves and allay consumer fears about privacy on the Internet or they will do it for them, the ICC Marketing and Advertising Commission has been told.

“As the global pioneer and leader in the self-regulation of the Internet and the digital media the Commission is committed to working with members and industry partners to gain consensus on the guidance necessary to protect users and foster the growth of digital services,” said John F. Manfredi, Chair of the ICC Marketing and Advertising Commission, “We believe that the industry leaders are searching for workable principles and systems.”

“ICC is in a unique position to offer the industry a forum to develop a harmonized global approach that will complement the global reach of the digital media,” he added.

Mr Manfredi said the commission would closely monitor and track all developments in the US and Europe and would “provide a forum for sectoral leaders – from companies, associations and regulators – to explore options, exchange views and build consensus.”

At its 26 June meeting the commission, which writes the international codes that underpin self-regulatory practice in marketing communications, also discussed sustainable consumption and production, environmental marketing claims, and the possibility of developing an interpretive framework to help marketers avoid the pitfalls of overstating environmental claims.

The day before, in a special session on digital marketing looking particularly at the issue of online behavioural targeting, Stephan Noller of nugg.ad, a behavioural targeting company, explained the technique and demonstrated how this service greatly improves the appropriateness of offers to consumers and thus their responsiveness to them. However, he said his company knew at the outset it had to find a solution to address privacy concerns.

He noted that online behavioural targeting was growing rapidly because companies expect online advertising to be more efficient than television advertising. Advertisers, he added, require proof that their messages were reaching the targeted audience.

Mr Noller said that giving the user the possibility of opting out from having their preferences tracked was important.  “It is important to offer that service because it creates trust for people,” he told the commission. “If people are told what cookies do, if we make it transparent, it would be better than trying to avoid talking about the issue of privacy.”

But he said requiring users to opt-in for behavioural tracking would destroy the current business model.

Following the practical ‘show and tell’ members heard an overview of existing legislation in the US and Europe as well as on recent regulatory guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. Regulators in both the US and the EU have threatened restrictive regulations on behavioural advertising and user profiling if self-regulatory principles fail to insure increased transparency, privacy protection and choice.

While many of the issues across the Atlantic are similar, Alisa Bergman, a partner in Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in Brussels, noted some important differences exist both in terms of the legal frameworks but also in how terms such as sensitive data are defined.

In both the US and Europe industry stakeholders have been working together to respond to the call to action by their respective regulators. Mike Zaneis   Vice-President Public Policy of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) described a collaborative effort with US advertising trade associations and with the National Advertising Review Council, the US self-regulatory review organization, to offer a self-regulatory system.

Kimon Zorbas, IAB Europe Vice President, said the industry had to decide how to respond to increasing regulatory pressures. He noted that European regulators will be studying what is happening in the US and said that enforcement must be part of any industry self-regulatory procedure. “The regulatory response,” he said, “will depend on whether we can address potential threats as they are seen by the legislators.”

The next meeting of the commission will take place in Paris 14-15 January 2009.