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The role of advertising in society continues to expand around the world. In response, many societies face greater challenges in regulating advertising to protect the public from deceptive and unfair business conduct. Although the scope of advertising law and regulations varies from country to country, regulation is generally manifested as self-regulation by the industry and statutory regulation by various government bodies. In many countries, self-regulation – voluntary, industry-wide control by advertisers – complements legal regulatory systems. Given that each self-regulatory system offers a different set of standards and codes, the international Chamber of Commerce (ICC) plays an important role in coordinating efforts to develop international guidelines and policies. The ICC publishes the international Code of Advertising Practice that is used and integrated into many self-regulatory systems around the world and handles complaints when the scope of a dispute spans multiple countries, or in cases where national self-regulatory systems do not exist. Other key international organizations include the international Advertising Association (IAA) and the World Federation of Advertisers.
With statutory regulation, a variety of judicial tools can be utilized to achieve prompt and efficient control of advertising practices. Depending on the nature and type of advertising, many different specialized government agencies oversee its regulation. For a long time, advertising was considered to be outside the realm of freedom of expression. When the US Supreme Court first considered the issue in 1942, it decided that “purely commercial advertising” was not the type of speech protected by the First Amendment. In 1976, that decision was explicitly overruled by the US Supreme Court, who reasoned that such advertisements conveyed vital information to the public and that a free enterprise economy depended upon a free flow of commercial information. Contrary to the US Supreme Court’s categorical approach, the European courts have tended to apply the same principles to both commercial and non-commercial expression of speech.
Advertising of certain products or services has received closer regulatory scrutiny. For example, the issue of advertising toward children has prompted many restrictions. Furthermore, advertising of certain products is prohibited, especially on broadcast media. Direct-to-consumer prescription advertising is forbidden in all countries except in the US and new Zealand. In fact, advertising of cigarettes demonstrates a substantially different application of the commercial speech doctrine. Unlike the US and Canada, many European countries have imposed a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising .
- Boddewyn, J. J. (1992). Global perspectives on advertising self-regulation: Principles and practices in thirty eight countries. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.
- Shaver, M. A. & An, S. (2013). The global Advertising Regulation handbook Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
- Shiner, R. A. (2003). Freedom of Commercial Expression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.