The rationale is to protect Asia's diverse cultures and religions. The degree of advertising regulation varies from the very developed, very regulated markets of Australia and Japan to newer advertising markets like Vietnam, where Western advertising can be misunderstood. As the region continues to develop, however, government and consumer pressure for advertising regulation will increase everywhere. Baker & McKenzie attorney David Shannon, who specializes in advertising law, believes Asia is still a relatively unconstrained market, as long as cultural sensitivities are taken into consideration.
"When I lived in Australia, I made a living advising on advertising law, but I would have starved doing the same thing in Asia," he said.
"You generally get an amount of consumer protection legislation which is pretty much in line with the degree of economic development in each country. The highly developed countries have more laws, like Japan and Australia-which is over the top and has more laws than anyone, arguably more than people need. The other general rule is that you do get areas of sensitivity in relation to specific cultures and religion."
James Ng, Dentsu, Young & Rubicam Singapore's senior VP-business development Asia-Pacific, said he believes attitudes are beginning to change in Asia.
"Asia is following Western practices and becoming more progressive . . . [but] it is also seeking to be more proactive in monitoring the Internet for reasons of pornographic control and political control," Mr. Ng said.
Rob Graham, group account director at Foote Cone & Belding, Bangkok, emphasized that the different stages of economic development throughout Asia are impacting ad rules.
"Thailand has reached development status but what we can and can't do is quite strict. Burma, on the other hand, is struggling to come to grips with the modern day and has open arms and welcomes any foreign investment. The advertising regulations are quite relaxed for a military junta."
In Australia, the most regulated and Westernized country in the region, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is reviewing advertising codes that may lead the governmental regulatory body to tighten rules.Codes already govern the portrayal of women, children, HIV-positive patients, the environment and food.
The Media Council of Australia, which administers the codes, also has been working toward a new code for gambling advertising. A decision is expected by yearend.
No cigarette advertising is now allowed, after outdoor ads were banned in December 1995.
The Australian Association of National Advertisers has floated an alternative plan to handle advertising complaints. It consists of two bodies-an Advertising Claims Board that would deal with advertiser-to-advertiser complaints and an Advertising Standards Board that would handle complaints from consumers and others. Breaches would be referred to government agencies and be available in public reports, rather than the Media Council's banning the ads in question.
The advertisers' association and Advertising Standards Council, a group representing both the ad industry and the public that rules on controversial ads, have been at odds for some time, with advertisers believing they have no recourse if their ad is banned.
The first independent analysis of the effectiveness of advertising regulation in Australia, released last month, was highly critical of the way the Advertising Standards Council upholds codes. The study, conducted by Debra Harker of Griffith University, found the council was inadequately funded, lacked independence, had lost much of its educational role and was openly abused by advertisers seeking publicity from controversial ads.
Ms. Harker called for a major overhaul of the council and said that if the industry could not fund the process properly, the government must intervene.
In Japan, a few changes are being made to promote competition, such as increasing the maximum value of prizes ten-fold to $90,000. But regulation of on-line communications is also being considered.
Indonesia is about to undergo significant changes following a draft bill from the minister of information regarding commercial broadcasting laws, which is expected to be passed as legislation by November.
Also, a proposed ban of cigarette advertising is under review. Currently, cigarette ads are allowed on TV but the packs and smoking scenes may not be shown.
Foreign content is a gray area in Indonesia, Mr. Soderbom said. "People need to be Indonesian [in commercials] but you can run a Marlboro ad with `white' faces. It is taken on a case-by-case basis."
Singapore is one of the most policed Asian countries, according to Mr. Ng of Dentsu, Y&R. And the focus is on restrictions of new media.
The government has just established the Proxy, a central master server and screening service for material housed and downloaded on the Internet.
Alcohol advertising may also be reviewed in Singapore. Mr. Ng said there are "unwritten rules" and a system of self-censorship.
Tighter regulations on cigarette and alcohol advertising are the focus of changing regulations in Thailand. For example, the Thai Censorship Board has changed alcohol regulations to now allow alcohol advertising on TV after 10 p.m.
"By comparison to other countries in the region, Thailand's attitudes are quite modern," said FCB Bangkok's Mr. Graham. "When compared to Malaysia and Singapore, where satellite TV is banned, Thailand seems very civilized indeed. There is no local content law, no prohibition on satellite dishes or cable transmissions, no draconian regulations regarding the proximity of a man to a woman in the frame."
Western commercialism has caused concern in Vietnam's new ad market, but there are no written advertising regulations, and policies can change frequently.
Earlier this year, there was a crackdown on anything Western. Western magazines were burned in the streets, Western ads were pulled from Vietnamese publications, outdoor boards were taken down and even Western company signs on buildings were removed.
Western ad agencies are only allowed representative offices in Vietnam. All financial transactions are done outside Vietnam, slowing down payment to media. As a result, the government is discussing whether all media buying should be done only by Vietnamese-owned agencies.