Achieving high standards in advertising is a collective responsibility

‘May you live in interesting times’ is a phrase that sums up the advertising industry in this age. We believe that there’s never been a better time to work in the industry due to the incredible opportunities offered by technological advancements and scientific discoveries around why we choose brands. Creativity is also stretched based on the fact that our world is increasingly becoming a multi-media experience and people have more control around the content that they are exposed to.

Last year gross advertising spend in Kenya stood at Ksh. 105 billion making the sector a significant contributor to the GDP. Among the African countries Kenya has the leading advertising expenditure growth rate for many reasons including being a hub for business and thus brands, having a booming media industry, the availability of good audience measurement, and maintaining high standards in advertising. Advertising plays a vital part in our market economy because it stimulates growth and innovation, encourages competition and increases consumer choice.

13 years ago, the advertising industry in Kenya compiled a comprehensive Advertising Code of Practice and Guiding Principles for the Kenyan Market. The Code created an independent body, the Advertising Standards Body of Kenya (ASBK) set up by the marketing and advertising industry to implement a system of self-regulation, develop advertising standards and set up a procedure to ensure that advertisements which fail to meet those standards are quickly corrected or removed. The Code is based upon the International Code of Advertising Practice and is benchmarked with similar codes in advanced markets such as South Africa, Australia and England, and it is amended from time to time to meet the dynamic needs of the industry and society.

The ASBK set up a complaints procedure to handle issues with advertisements brought to its attention by organisations or members of the public. The Code provides detailed standards on legality, decency, honesty, truthfulness and substantiation and it prohibits disparagement of advertisers either directly or indirectly. In making a complaint, one can point to specific standards of substantiation or claims which an advertisement has failed to live up to. The Code also provides detailed standards for the various categories of advertising including charities, household, betting and gaming, contraceptives, cosmetics and many others, each of which has industry specific provision on acceptable standards.

Self-regulation offers consumers and organisations a quick, uncomplicated, easily-accessible and low cost way of having their complaints handled without the complexities and delays of the judicial and regulatory process. A past chairman of the Marketing Society of Kenya, Roger Steadman, said that in the days gone by, advertising disputes were handled very personally. As the chairman, he would invite to his office or home the MD of the company that raised the complaint and his counter part in the respondent company, and they would solve the problem over a few drinks. It was easier then, but as the industry grew and companies got bigger and more complicated, the need for the Code became necessary.

In the absence of self-regulation government intervention can be costly to industry. Due to excessive regulation of the advertising industry in Nigeria, the President of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, recently lamented that outdoor advertising in Nigeria was under serious threat and faced the risk of collapsing if nothing is done to check excess regulations. According to APCON, 70% of advertisers have withdrawn from the use of outdoor advertising in Nigeria due to its numerous regulations and multiple taxations.

Some advertisers have aligned themselves suitably to advertising standards which they have instituted in their business and marketing procedures. A review of the advertising guidelines in GSK, the pharmaceutical giant, is a case in point. The internal guidelines for creating thematic commercials begins at least 18 months before any advertisements are aired, and they provide a step by step process to defining the need for advertising, developing a strategic approach, clarifying the brand promise of the claimed benefits, and eventually creating the ad. One key area they address is the substantiation of the claimed benefits. A good amount of time is spent scientifically proving their claims and the product demonstrations that are included in the advertisements are prepared well in advance of the rest of the video production to ensure they they are truthful and convey the messages correctly. It is the recommended way to keep high advertising standards and avoid the problems that are associated with disputes or complaints about your advertising.

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