World ad federation seeking consistency

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Worried that advertising regulatory issues are turning increasingly global, the World Federation of Advertisers is taking steps to ensure the ad industry's answers are global, too.

The first efforts to cross borders include the expansion of a decade-old Canadian education ad campaign for other countries; the first worldwide study on the costs of privacy restrictions; and the expansion of a European ad industry Web site offering research and information (aeforum.org) to cover developments around the world.

"The advertising industry is starting to realize that a number of issues are becoming global," said Stephan Loerke, European Union Affairs Consultant for the Brussels-based WFA, which held a global advertising summit in Washington last week. "Up until two or three years ago, what was being done in Europe was different from what was going on in the U.S. or Japan. The agendas were different and you could fix things at the local level."

Now, he said, issues of kids' marketing and privacy are surfacing globally with problems, research and developments in one country influencing decisions in others.

Canada, for example, has had to deal with the issue of kids' marketing for 20 years. The province of Quebec's decision to ban marketers from targeting kids was one of the reasons 26 media companies and advertisers got together a decade ago to launch Concerned Children's Advertisers.

Cathy Lobaw, president-chief operating officer, said her group has produced more than 35 commercials dealing with kids' issues ranging from bullying to drugs. It has also produced a "TV and me" campaign featuring issues of media literacy that its TV network members run in high visibility kids' programming. The media literacy education program is carried through in lesson plans for schools and homes

Mr. Loerke said the WFA hopes to test the education program in one unnamed European country as soon as this summer, with hopes of later expanding worldwide.

WFA also feels that various countries' efforts to limit profiling to increase privacy warrant global efforts to keep track of what's taking place, provide research and information and offer consistent industry positions.

"The key concern is the same everywhere. It's ensuring that regulators don't regulate even more or restrict even more," Mr. Loerke said. "What we now recognize is it can't be dealt with on regional level."

The federation also is planning other steps. It will move to set up improved methods to deal with self-regulatory issues when there are complaints about a marketer in one country from a consumer in another. Finally, it will look at the consistency of industry ad codes around the world.

"We all agree that the best insurance policy against regulation is self-regulation," said Mr. Loerke. "You cannot pretend anymore that you live only within national borders when you have the Internet and satellite TV."

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