WikiRegs is about making accessible the rules that affect the marketing communications of multinational brands, so that agencies and their clients have a better understanding of those rules and as a result improve compliance and reduce costs. In short, WikiRegs is intended to make running an international brand just a little bit easier. Below is a gentle walk through the current system and how WikiRegs develops it; practitioners may learn nothing new, but for the benefit of those who might be interested, we have set out what drives this new service: the logic and thinking behind it, the philosophy that drives it, and the unmet needs it delivers.
Broadly, the system that governs marketing communications in Europe is self-regulatory, though various new influences - in digital marketing especially - are also covered largely by the law’s long arm, more of which later. The ‘guardian’ of advertising compliance in most major European countries is the industry-funded Self-Regulatory Organisation, or SRO. This industry system is well established and very largely effective and efficient.
SROs are primarily national organisations, developing and managing rules and guidance that reflect the culture in which they operate. Based in Brussels, their umbrella organisation the European Advertising Standards Alliance EASA, sets out standards for advertising self-regulatory systems across Europe, and manages the EU regulatory environment so that the self-regulatory voice is heard and its contribution recognised. There are some significant international rules from the ICC’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Code, which is also applied as the national code in a number of countries, and there are some useful Best Practice Recommendations from EASA which can be applied internationally, but the current system does not provide a single source of national and international rules that apply to, or across, product sectors in Europe.
The law and advertising’s self-regulation are enmeshed; the self-regulatory system is essentially founded on the law and the principles of the ICC’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Code. In Europe especially, much of the framework is from, or closely reflects, the requirements of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which underpins the core ‘misleadingness’ provisions in codes throughout Europe. It would have been possible, and a great deal simpler, to show only the self-regulatory picture, but the result would have been an unfinished article. Communications for a number of product sectors, cars and food for example, are subject to EU Regulations that apply directly in member states, and what is more or less a digital revolution in advertising must deal with new and existing privacy laws that have a major impact on several forms of online commercial communications.
We felt that there was a considerable need for better understanding of the laws alluded to above: GDPR, and the (long time) forthcoming European E-Privacy legislation, are very important new influences in digital communications. The way in which these and other laws are presented, and the remoteness of their sources, doesn’t help creative cultures to ‘get’ what they need to get. The development of this database therefore also included considerable input from legal practitioners (though none were harmed in the making of it). We present the legal aspects of the rules with care: WikiRegs should never be regarded as legal opinion or advice, or any kind of replacement for legal services - see our Disclaimer for more. Our aim is ‘up the chain’, towards agencies and brand managers, and long before lawyers arrive to pick up the non-compliant pieces.
So the above hopefully paints the picture in the regulation of marketing communications: a strong but essentially national self-regulatory system, with some hefty influence from Brussels in Regulations and Directives, variously delivered in member states in the case of the latter. Brands, especially big brands, are often much better aligned (and managed) than regulatory regimes, being multinational and managed from a single ‘hub’ where access to the rules, especially national law, is piecemeal and time-consuming at best. So the simple idea is to source, assemble, translate, check and double-check, and present all the rules in a single place. Here in these pages.
The idea might be simple, but delivering it correctly isn’t. A combination of advertising people who know agencies and clients, lawyers who know the rules and regulators who write them, the support of EASA and individual Self-Regulatory Organisations, and thousands of hours in research and writing ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that the rules are accurate, comprehensive, and comprehensible. The database has been about 5 years in the development and now contains several million words. We don’t recommend reading them all, and we have done our best to structure and signpost so that you can find both wood and trees. We have started with the biggest markets in Europe because they are in many ways the most difficult. In due course, we will expand to more than thirty of the world’s largest advertising markets, representing more than three quarters of global adspend. Six product sectors are now available as well as the General rules that apply to all sectors; ten will be completed in the same due course.
The website will extend to include a user forum, so that regulatory issues and problems can be shared. By that time, we will be operating a contributor model, so that new rules are posted automatically by those who write them, rather than a central sourcing of national and international provisions. So that will mean the best type of solution: one by the industry for the industry, and hence ‘WikiRegs’. Some of the sectors that we plan to include – for example Financial Services and Pharmaceuticals – are highly complex and sensitive, and require the input of some expensive contributors. We have taken the database to the point that you find it – six sectors and nine countries - so that we can understand industry reaction and usage from a ‘serious’ base coverage. Some aspects of the service in future – bespoke help, individualised notifications and updates via app - may come with a price attached. Make the most of it meanwhile.
We won’t make real progress without some help from users: reactions (good and bad) and thoughts and ideas are all welcome: go to the Feedback tab. In time, you should see the website develop to one of those rare gems: instant and simple answers to difficult questions. For free.