Evolution of advertising and marketing practices
Today, people receive an ever-increasing number of commercial messages disseminated in a systematic and integrated manner across multiple media, in the public and private spheres, in physical and digital spaces. While varying from one country to another, the level of commercial advertising seems to be on the rise everywhere, deploying increasingly sophisticated strategies, resulting in a progressively blurred line between advertising and other content, especially in the areas of culture and education.
New forms and techniques of advertising and marketing have appeared, including:
(a) Digital advertising and marketing using electronic devices, such as computers, tablets, mobile phones, digital billboards and games, to engage with consumers and business partners;
(b) Viral and social media advertising and marketing, rapidly spreading on the Internet through the use of existing social networks or by contracting individuals to enter online communication forums for the specific purpose of promoting a product;
(c) The use of “brand ambassadors”, acting, for example, in schools and universities;
(d) Embedded advertising, inserting a product or service within television programmes or series, movies, music, videos, games or school activities;
(e) Native advertising (or branded/sponsored content), in which advertisers sponsor or create editorial-like content;
(f) Online behavioural advertising that tracks consumers” online activities over time (including searches conducted, web pages visited and content viewed) to supply them with targeted advertising;
(g) Many advertisers claim they use neuromarketing, including brain imaging, to elaborate advertising and marketing strategies.
The power of advertising to influence individual choices demands a careful assessment of the means advertisers use, taking into consideration in particular the rights of people to privacy and to freedom of thought, opinion and expression, as enshrined in particular in articles 17 to 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as their rights to education and to participate in cultural life, as protected in particular in articles 13 and 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In the past, advertising was mainly informative. That changed in the 1920s and today much contemporary advertising focuses on the link between emotional responses and decision-making, benefiting from advances in behavioural sciences and playing on subconscious desires.
Surreptitious communications (misleading the public about their advertising nature) and subliminal techniques (enabling messages to be received below the level of conscious awareness) are prohibited in some countries as well as in some international and regional instruments, in particular in Europe. Not all countries have taken that step, however, leading to the circumvention of this basic and important principle by the advertising and marketing strategies described above.