EUROPE: A time to reflect ad land’s opinion

The EC Green Paper on consumer protection has come under fire for not being wide-ranging enough. The solution is for government to talk to the ad industry itself and reach a compromise, says John Shannon

If, as was recently reported, the UK government, in the guise of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), is to reflect the concerns of the Advertising Association in drafting its response to the European Commission Green Paper on consumer protection, this can only be welcomed by the advertising industry. The publishing of the consumer protection paper, and the accompanying call for industry points of view, follows shortly after the European Commission issued a similar paper relating to promotional practices.

The draft papers have been welcomed in some quarters, but criticised in others. Though accepting the launch of a Green Paper initiative to improve consumer protection policies in the EU, the Federation of European Direct Marketing (FEDMA) considers that the EC has “failed to deliver a broad enough document for serious business discussion”. Commenting on the paper relating to sales promotion practices, the consumers’ organisation BEUC complains that the EC has proposed an “inflexible legal framework for sales promotion.”

Moves to harmonise the regulation of marketing practices are often prompted by understandable public concern. Last month, the Union Féminine Civique et Sociale (UFCS) – a consumer-interest pressure group active in France and Belgium – released a survey criticising practices in some areas of the food and medicines industries for advertisements that promise more than some products can deliver.

For its part – especially in the UK – the marketing industry can argue that legislation, complemented by codes of self regulation, is already in place and that further, harmonised restrictions may limit companies’ ability to achieve what the EC seeks to facilitate – namely the free movement of goods and services. As The Lawyer magazine recently noted: “Unless the commission’s plans are workable and allow marketers to develop their messages along with their businesses, [the Green Paper] could do more harm than good.”

Clearly the advertising industry must ensure that its voice is heard as part of the consultation surrounding such papers. But, aside from this, what other avenues are available to the industry to demonstrate its role within society?

In France, between November 19 and 24, the advertising agency association AACC will hold its sixth annual “Semaine de la Publicité” (Advertising Week), designed to show those outside advertising how the industry works, presented this year under the title: “Advertising: Saving the Economy.” In Germany, advertisers, agencies and media are joining in a campaign designed to highlight their desire and ability to invigorate the economy. In Italy, at the recent Congresso della PubblicitÃÂ event, the editor of the trade magazine AdvExpress, Salvatore Sagone, called on the industry to mount a similar initiative.

The DTI has said that the EU initiatives should “complement, not complicate” the internal market. The advertising industry agrees and is ready to direct its energies towards a similar end.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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