Advertising Agencies—The Code Adopted
In the past advertising agencies were concerned with selling space for newspapers. Modern agencies, however, have no direct connection with any specific publication and are in fact, if not in theory, much more closely connected with the clients for whom they prepare advertisements. But agencies still rely for income on commissions allowed them on space bought by them in newspapers and periodicals on behalf of clients. It is not open to anyone who thinks himself capable of carrying on the business of advertising to set up an agency and automatically draw commission for space bought. He must be accredited by the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of New Zealand. Accreditation which, if granted, must be renewed annually, carries with it a number of obligations, the most important from the public's point of view being to ensure that every advertisement issued by him shall be clean, honest, and truthful, and in compliance with the statutes of New Zealand. Secondly, that an agent shall not submit any advertisement which, either by direct statement or by innuendo, disparages any competitor of the advertiser or the goods or services sold by any competitor of the advertiser. The Newspaper Proprietors' Association can and occasionally does refuse advertisements which, in its opinion, infringes these regulations.
While the first obligation deserves to be commended, it is questionable whether the second is, or ever can be, observed. Every advertisement which contains claims of superiority must to some extent disparage all other products of a similar type. It is debatable whether such disparagement should not be allowed provided the claims are true, but modern advertising, like politics, is more temperate than it was formerly. Over and above the control exercised by the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, regulation of the content of advertising prepared by agencies (but not by retailers and local dealers) is carried even further by the Association of New Zealand Advertising Agencies, to which all but one or two of the 30-odd agencies in the country belong. No member shall prepare or handle advertising containing or including, amongst other things, false statements or misleading exaggeration or distortions of detail; unwarranted claims which directly or indirectly disparage competition; claims as to price which are misleading; scientific or technical claims not adequately supported by accepted authority, and fake testimonials. These counsels of perfection are not always followed to the letter, but the general standard of advertising prepared by agencies is remarkably high and the association does take its members to task for infringements.
Advertising in certain fields is also rigorously controlled by statute. The Medical Advertisements Act, policed by the Health Department, and the Pure Food and Drugs Act are generally successful in restricting false claims. Even more rigorous, the Stock Remedies Act requires approval before an advertisement can be printed. The Trading Coupons Act, the Gaming Act, and the Companies Act also play their part in maintaining a high standard of advertising in New Zealand. The latest in the list of organisations which act as watchdogs over advertising has been the Government-subsidised Consumer Council . Primarily concerned with testing goods offered for sale, it also comments on advertising claims. Unfortunately it tends to represent what, for want of a better term, must be called the “intellectual' section of the community, emotionally antagonistic to all forms of advertising, however good.