The advertising industry has a new ethics code, as the Institute for Advertising Ethics today released a set of eight principles on issues ranging from the blurry line between advertising, editorial and entertainment content to behavioral targeting and disclosure of compensation for social-media endorsements.
The institute, an independent body administered by the American Advertising Federation and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, next wants to launch a series of webinars and conferences in hopes of making the principles an industry standard, said Wally Snyder, the group's executive director and president emeritus of the AAF.
Ultimately Mr. Snyder hopes other associations, marketers and agencies will adopt the principles and go so far as to get members and employees to sign pledges to adhere to them.
"These are not set in stone," he said, noting that additional principles could be added and current ones changed based on feedback. He hopes to provide both a carrot, in the form of recognizing marketers and agencies that abide by the code, and perhaps someday a stick in the form of reviewing complaints that they haven't.
"But the focus of this is education," he said.
Mr. Snyder led an advisory panel of current and former agency and marketer executives and academics who began work on the Principles and Practices of Advertising last summer.
The principles include several seemingly uncontroversial points -- such as statements that everyone in the industry shares an interest in high ethical standards and should adhere to laws and regulations -- to potentially thornier issues.
One principle says advertisers, agencies and media should give employees permission to express ethical concerns internally, but doesn't tell employees to make those concerns public if their concerns aren't addressed.
That principle "really goes to creating an environment within the agency or company where these things can be discussed," he said. "It has to come from the top down."
Mr. Snyder couched the recent controversy over Groupon's Super Bowl ad from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, as an ethical issue that should have been discussed prior to the ad running, i.e. whether it was right to make light of the plight of Tibetans in an ad.
Groupon CEO Andrew Mason pointed out in his blog that the ad was part of a marketing program that raised money for the Tibet Fund, which found no fault with the ad.
Another principle is that advertisers should clearly distinguish advertising, public relations and corporate communications from news and editorial content and entertainment. Particularly amid growing numbers of media sources and use of brand integration in entertainment, it's a line that's often hard to distinguish, Mr. Snyder said.