Self-regulation or prison threat? Advertisers must decide.
Spain’s advertising industry is preparing to fight the Government over
new laws that could see staff sent to jail for up to a year for false
Last Thursday, after nearly two decades of paying lip service to self-
regulation, agencies, media companies and advertisers relaunched the
industry’s own internal policing body, Auto Control - to prove that
advertising is grown up enough to have November’s tough laws repealed.
Under Article 285 of Spain’s revised penal code, advertisers now face
imprisonment or hefty fines if they make ‘false statements or attribute
untrue characteristics’ to a product or service.
Companies are protesting at the vagueness of the offences as well as the
manner in which they can be decided. Judges can now slap a ban on an ad
without a complaint being made or the advertiser being given a right to
immediate appeal. And since Spanish law is notoriously slow, advertisers
are concerned that an eventual judgment will be too late for practical
Stanley Bendelac, chairman and chief executive officer of the leading
Spanish agency, Delvico Bates, fears the laws give too much power to
individuals who may not look at an ad in the context of a campaign:
‘There are many grey areas where judges could have a key, but very
negative, role if they didn’t understand the whole issue,’ he says.
David Torrejon, director of the Association of Spanish Advertisers,
adds: ‘Our concern is about unfair behaviour between companies misusing
the law to ban competitive ads or by consumer associations blackmailing
Whether the Government will accept the industry’s alternative to sledge-
hammer-cracking-a-nut legislation has yet to be seen. But, since direct
political lobbying on behalf of advertisers by the Catalonian Party and
Partido Popular failed earlier this year, the approach is certainly
Bendelac says: ‘We think it’s the best way of fighting this law,’ adding
that the organisation has just named Madrid University’s Professor of
Administrative Law, Eduardo Garcia de Enterria, as its new heavy-hitting
But outsiders are sceptical - not least because of Auto Control’s track
record. Manuel de Luque, deputy editor of the Spanish advertising
publication, Anuncios, says: ‘It has been almost totally ineffective in
the past, but looks much more sensible now, so we’ll just have to see
Perhaps the prospect of swapping expense account lunches for a spot of
porridge will convince most agency heads that regulation is worth
supporting this time.