Tucked away on the last page of the Programme for Government is a paragraph about the future of the Irish self-regulatory regime which covers the advertising and marketing industry.
o say that it is currently causing considerable concern and unease in marketing circles is an understatement.
“We will move away from the current self-regulating regime for advertising and require the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to take a more active enforcement role,” according to the 136-page document which sealed the deal for the formation of the three-party coalition Government.
The paragraph in question also smacks of an 11th-hour attempt by some ill-informed apparatchik to appease one of the coalition partners, most likely the Green Party which has, historically, looked at the advertising industry with equal measures of disdain and suspicion.
Anyone looking for a more in-depth and coherent rationale for doing away with self-regulation, however, will be disappointed and, to the best of my knowledge, the Government coalition partners are not in possession of any evidence-based research to suggest that self-regulation in the marketing and advertising industry does not work.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of this, however, is that everyone within the wider marketing industry has been caught completely off-guard. And that includes the CCPC.
Up until now, there has been no industry-wide debate or consultation about the merits or otherwise of self-regulation in the advertising world. That a government would move to abolish self-regulation without consulting the key stakeholders – including marketers, advertising agencies, media owners and their representative trade organisations – beggars belief.
At the heart of the Irish self-regulatory regime is the likes of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) and CopyClear, which pre-vets all alcohol advertising. It also includes the various trade organisations representing advertisers, agencies and media owners.
Given the global nature of the advertising market, these Irish bodies also feed into self-regulatory initiatives run by the likes of the World Federation of Advertisers and the European Advertising Standards Alliance, as well as the EU’s own Audio Visual Services Directive, which is all in favour of self-regulation.
The self-regulatory regime which operates in Ireland has taken many years to build up and, crucially, it has the support of these key stakeholders.
While it is far from perfect, it has served as an effective buffer from the worst excesses of advertising and marketing while, more importantly, it has fostered a strong culture of compliance among advertisers, marketers and their agencies.
Baked into all of this is the concept that advertising and other forms of marketing communications are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been created with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and a sense of fairness and responsibility to competitors.
Ireland, of course, is by no means unique when it comes to self-regulation. Every other European country has embraced the concept while further afield, in countries such as the US and Australia, self-regulation in advertising is the norm.
Self-regulation very much relies on the good sense and the commitment of all the stakeholders to provide consumers with appropriate advertisements which are legal, honest, decent and truthful.
And while there will always be a few rogue actors who will try to skirt around this, they eventually get rumbled and appropriate sanctions are levied.
If there is one area where there is room for improvement, it is in the online world where digital platforms and advertising networks, sometimes willingly, facilitate the dissemination of advertising that is misleading and often spammy and scammy.
Self-regulation alone is not going to solve this and it seems inevitable that we are heading into an era where the likes of Google and Facebook will need to be regulated, and appropriate mechanisms to hold them accountable will have to be put in place.
And not before time.
But this shouldn’t take away from the important and often overlooked role that self-regulation plays when it comes to other parts of the wider marketing communications landscape.
And in the absence of any wider debate, industry consultation or, indeed, evidence-based research which shows it does not work, then the proposal, as set out in the Programme for Government, is ill-conceived, unwarranted and a complete waste of time.
The toughest of them all
AIB is returning to our screens with the seventh series of The Toughest, the documentaries which showcase the highs and lows of GAA players around the country.
Created by Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive, this year’s series was probably the toughest challenge of all, given Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the sporting world. Five online episodes will be released weekly, culminating with a feature-length documentary set to air on RTÉ One on Tuesday, August 25.
Going with the Flo
With digital transformation very much on the agenda for many companies at the moment, the Dublin-based agency Folk Wunderman Thompson has rolled out a new custom-built digitised workflow platform for its clients.
Called Flo, the agency claims it is the only one currently operating such a platform and clients which have availed of it during lockdown include Vodafone, Dublin City Council and Cairn Homes.