Marketing & advertising

New ethical code guides marketing communications worldwide

  • 28 September 2006

To address new ethical challenges brought on by a rapidly-changing media landscape, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has published a consolidated and expanded version of its advertising and marketing codes.

Increasing consumer demand and use of new technologies has dramatically changed the way marketers interact with consumers. The new ICC code is recognition by companies that this fast-evolving media era requires the ethical rules and practices for traditional media be updated for the new media.

This is the eighth revision of the ICC International Code of Advertising Practice, which was first issued in 1937. The new consolidated Code extends the scope from advertising to marketing communications and brings together guidelines for a range of marketing practices from advertising on the Internet and via SMS to the do’s and don’ts of communicating with children.

“We want companies to embrace this updated code of marketing communications in order to better serve their publics. Consumers want to know that advertising in all mediums is honest and truthful; that it won’t deceive and mislead them. They also want to know the personal information they give companies will be properly protected. This Code provides that assurance from the hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world that abide by its precepts,” said John F. Manfredi, chairman of the ICC’s Commission on Marketing and Advertising.

The ICC Code sets a high ethical hurdle that is well beyond legal requirements. For example, the Code specifies that any scientific claims in an advertisement must be backed by unequivocal research and data made available for review; that marketers must safeguard personal information and discard it after a limited time; and that commercials aimed at young people never exploit their inexperience.

The Code includes new chapters on electronic media, the telephone and green advertising claims, plus an expanded section on advertising to children.

The Code was revised by a global task force of experts from ICC member companies, which was co-chaired by Anders Stenlund, director and senior policy manager of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise in Stockholm, and Oliver Gray, director-general of the European Advertising Standards Alliance in Brussels.

“The ICC Code is the long-standing, global ethical platform for the advertising industry,” said Mr Stenlund. “This new, streamlined version is designed as a practical tool and should be a daily reference for all concerned with marketing communications.”

Mr Manfredi, who has chaired ICC’s marketing commission for 15 years, has served as a senior executive for several of the leading consumer products companies of the world, including Procter & Gamble, Gillette, Kraft, Nabisco and General Foods. He noted that the Code is one element of an extensive system of regulation that includes a global process of enforcement.

Around the world, code enforcement agencies review tens of thousands of cases annually involving violations that are corrected and businesses that are sanctioned. The number of cases handled by the code enforcement agencies far exceeds those brought by government regulators in many countries.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission brought 83 advertising cases in front of federal district court in 2004; code enforcers such as the National Advertising Division and local chapters of the Better Business Bureau, reviewed more than 12,527 cases that same year.

“ICC’s Code is an important new tool that will further enhance the effectiveness of industry self-regulation as an indispensable complement to government regulation,” said Mr Gray.

The ICC Code is being introduced with a worldwide education effort that involves seminars, workshops and a range of print materials.