by Gail Schimmel (@GailSchimmel) In April 2019, on behalf of the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) of South Africa, I attended the annual meeting of the International Council for Ad Self-Regulation (ICAS) and the bi-annual meeting of the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), which sees advertising self-regulatory bodies from all over the world come together for an information-sharing, jam-packed three days in Paris, France.

But how does one sum up three intense days of meetings, in a beautiful city, where one witnessed one of the most-terrible fires the city has seen?

Regulation of digital platforms

A hot topic of the conference was, of course, the regulation of digital platforms — and speakers from both Facebook and Google took part on the conference. The Coalition for Better Ads was discussed, and the use of big data to synthesise what consumers like and don’t like in their advertising experiences online.

The challenge for the coming year is to measure whether this is, in fact, resulting in consumers having a less-frustrating experience of online advertising — as a frustrated consumer will, of course, only result in brand damage. What came out of this topic, and the conference as a whole, was the very important basic principle that self-regulation is there to ensure that consumers have trust n advertising. In this context, brands need to think carefully about unregulated issues (at least in SA), such as online bombardment with the same advertisement, and whether this ultimately lends value to their brand or their industry.

Global concerns

One of the most-interesting sessions on the first day is always the “tour de table”, and seeing what issues emerge as global concerns; this year, the top five issues that emerged globally are:

  • High fat, salt and sugar food (HFSS) advertising
  • Advertising to children (which intersects with HFSS advertising)
  • Online gambling
  • Alcohol
  • Health products

Except for gambling, these are all issues that have been flagged by various stakeholders in SA — and I arrived back to find we are dealing with a controversial online gambling commercial! This was underlined by a presentation by Jeff Greenbaum from GALA, who spoke about global advertising law trends.

Alcohol advertising

A separate session on alcohol advertising gave food for thought, with the following online safeguards identified:

  • Age-affirmation mechanisms (ie can’t get into a site if you are underage)
  • A forward-advice notice (ie don’t pass material on to those who are underage)
  • A responsible-drinking message
  • A transparency statement on official brand feeds
  • Community guidelines and control of user-generated content.

In 2019, the ARB is assisting with the global monitoring of these guidelines.

AI in advertising

Bringing us firmly into the digital age were two sessions about the use of AI in advertising, both as a regulatory tool (with France conducting projects involving gender balance in advertising, legibility of superimposed text, and use of alcohol, all by way of machine-based analysis) and as a creative tool (we were shown a number of exciting new campaigns using AI to target consumers in outdoor digital media).

Influencer marketing

Attention was drawn to the ICC Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which is becoming more and more a cornerstone to advertising regulation in a digital age. I was proud that, in discussion of regulation around influencer marketing regulation, South Africa’s new code, as drafted by the IAB, is on point and in line with international norms. Again, the issue of trust comes to the forefront: bad advertising results in lowered trust, which results in brand damage. The need to support self-regulation becomes clear in this context.

Cross-border complaints

What with living a global world, the self-regulatory organisations are all getting more and more complaints in which the advertiser is based in a different country, and detailed discussions were had around which advertising should be considered by which country. This cross-border complaints mechanism was flagged as a priority project for this year.

I have skimmed the top of the things I learnt, the people I met and the ideas that were sparked — and I look forward to another year of ensuring that SA stays in line with international best practice and is an involved and active member of the international self-regulatory community. This goal was strengthened by the formal welcome given to the ARB as a new member, and the many messages of support and goodwill that we received from International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) representatives and various global self-regulatory organisations.


Gail SchimmelGail Schimmel (@GailSchimmel) is an admitted attorney and the CEO of the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB). She’s also a published novelist.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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