Should advertisers have a role in the policing of newspapers and blogs? The Marketing Society Forum

MPs have proposed that brands use their adspend to help enforce regulation of newspapers.


Advertisers already have a de facto, but unofficial, policing role. Brands' withdrawal from the News of the World was a key contributor to the title's closure, for example.

Editorial context and advertising content have a symbiotic relationship. If the former gets out of kilter with the readership, the latter becomes less effective, and clients vote with their wallets.

While the advertising industry's self-regulatory system is funded by the ASBOF/BASBOF £1 in £1000 levy on client media expenditure, it's unlikely that the replacement for the PCC will be supported financially by advertisers. Thus it will fall to the publishing industry to set its house in order and underwrite its new policeman.


Any enforcement of a code needs clear guidelines as to what is and is not acceptable. The press exposure of MPs' expenses claims in 2009 was welcomed by the public and advertisers, but was any code broken? With the phone-hacking scandal, everyone was very clear regarding unacceptable behaviour and advertisers quickly reacted.

The proposed code continues to be one of self-regulation and I would be amazed if any newspaper or social-media site worth its salt wouldn't sign up to it.

We live in a democratic society and the choice as to whether a media outlet signs up to the code or an advertiser advertises within it is theirs to make. Regulation is for government, not advertisers.


The devil is in the detail. This scheme imposes a moral obligation on major advertisers acting as one. Advertisers already pull out of inappropriate publications individually, but each advertiser's morality may not be the same.

While we all agree about the Dowler case, we may not agree about infringing the privacy of an MP or celebrity. Advertisers also have an obligation to their shareholders. If withdrawing from a publication that acts as a shop window for sales means significant losses to an advertiser's business, then this may force a conflict.

Who will referee such a conflict and is it fair to expect advertisers to enforce a broad moral code at the same time as running a business?


Without advertisers most media wouldn't exist, so it is right to recognise their importance in the ecosystem. It is in the interest of advertisers to have high levels of trust in the media, and ad revenues can give regulators a very big stick.

The government should recognise that self-regulation in advertising serves all parties well. Advertisers could ask for the quid pro quo that the government protects against those who wish to limit the freedom to advertise.


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