They had the Beatles, we’ve got the Eagles. They have Big Ben, we have the Washington Monument. There are endless comparisons to make between British institutions and those born in the United States, and things are no different the advertising field. Today, we’re talking specifically about advertising industry self-regulation, which both the United States and United Kingdom got serious about in the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1962, the United Kingdom advertising industry established its Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which adjudicates claims of non-compliance with the British Code of Advertising Practice. Nine years later, the National Advertising Review Council – now known as the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (ASRC) – was formed in the United States.
Both are non-governmental, industry-funded bodies that self-regulate advertising. And over their similar timelines, they have both matured into respected forces with broadened mandates (both, for instance, are tackling online behavioral advertising) that enjoy near-total industry compliance with their decisions. Of course, they are not identical. While the ASA is something of a “one-stop shop,” the ASRC has established a number of subject-specific investigatory and adjudicatory departments such as the Children’s Advertising Review Unit and the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program. Also, the appellate process is substantially different in the United Kingdom, where appeals cannot go forward until an Independent Reviewer agrees to accept them.
But what fun would it be if we did things the same? That would be like tuning in to Breaking Bad and getting Downton Abbey: Albuquerque.
The Way I See It
• I see advertising industry self-regulation since the 1960s as an almost unqualified success, with enormous benefits to the public (in the form of more honest advertisements), advertisers (in access to efficient dispute resolution), and the image of the advertising industry as a whole
• The success of self-regulation has undoubtedly staved off more restrictive legislation that would have been enacted in its absence, giving the industry both here and in the United Kingdom a greater chance to define its own path.
• I see a critical moment on the horizon with the emergence of concerns around mobile advertising and food marketing to children, giving the industry a chance to again prove the value of self-regulation in those areas.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Tim Lefroy, CEO of the Advertising Association, an industry forum critical to shaping the self-regulatory scheme in the United Kingdom, to explore the topic further.