English Keyfacts

German Advertising Standards Council

Commercial advertising in Germany is comprehensively regulated by law. The state provides a framework for fair competition and ensures that advertising freedom is not used to the detriment of the public interest – for example by banning advertising claims that mislead, constitute a nuisance or are harmful to minors.

In addition to this statutory regulation, advertisers, the media and advertising agencies themselves actively exercise responsibility for ensuring good standards in advertising. The aim is for the public to have a means of recourse in instances where print, screen or billboard advertisements prompt criticism but do not actually break the law. This purpose is served by Deutscher Werberat – the German Advertising Standards Council. Deutscher Werberat does this in two ways: Firstly, it provides a mechanism for confl ict settlement between the public and commercial advertisers. Secondly, it draws up voluntary codes of conduct for advertising, particularly with regard to sensitive areas.

The objective of this form of self-regulation is to promote responsible practices in commercial advertising and to identify and resolve grievances. Deutscher Werberat is highly regarded for its fast and unbureaucratic complaints procedure. The self-regulatory system also has the benefi t of being able to respond quickly to emerging developments in the advertising market. The foundation for the work of Deutscher Werberat is its Operating Principles.

Deutscher Werberat is an institution of the 44 organisations of advertisers, the media, advertising agencies, the advertising professions and research establishments represented by the German Advertising Federation (ZAW). It is funded by all relevant participants in the advertising market. The ZAW Presiding Committee elects the ten members of Deutscher Werberat from among its number every three years.

This ten-member panel decides on complaints against individual advertisements. Its composition mirrors the structure of the advertising industry: There are four members for commercial advertisers, three for the media, two for advertising agencies and one for the advertising professions. The ZAW Presiding Committee is also allowed to appoint additional experts from the advertising industry to the board. There are currently three supernumerary members, taking the board up to a total of fifteen.

Codes of Conduct
A set of self-regulatory rules on advertising applies for all sectors of industry and all media. The advertising industry has also adopted specific sets of rules for a number of sensitive areas. Notable examples include codes on advertisements featuring and targeting children, on personal denigration and discrimination, and on advertisements depicting accident risks.

German Advertising Standards Council - Rules on Advertising and its Appraisal
Code of Conduct of the German Advertising Standards Council against personal denigration and discrimination
Code of Conduct of the German Advertising Standards Council on Commercial Communication for foods and beverages
Code of Conduct on Commercial Communication for Alcoholic Beverages
Explanatory Notes on the Code of Conduct on Commercial Communications for Alcoholic Beverages
Pronouncement of the German Advertising Standards Council on Responsible use of Traffic noises in radio advertising
Code of Conduct on Commercial Communication for Gambling
Pronouncement of the German Advertising Standards Council on Advertising with celebrities
Code of Conduct of the German Advertising Standards Council on advertising with and for children and adolescents in television, radio and telemedia

Complaints Procedure
Complaints are dealt with on the basis of Deutscher Werberat’s rules of procedure. Anyone can submit a complaint on commercial advertising to Deutscher Werberat. Complaints can be submitted by telephone, fax, email (werberat@werberat.de) or postal mail; anonymous complaints are not processed. Deutscher Werberat can also instigate proceedings itself.

Complainants’ names are treated confi dentially and the proceedings are free of charge to the complainant. The advertiser subject to complaint is given an opportunity to respond.

If a complaint is upheld, the advertiser is notifi ed and asked to modify or discontinue the advertisement.

If a breach of the law is suspected, the executive offi ce passes on the case without delay to the responsible authorities – for example the public prosecution service, the Wettbewerbszentrale (Centre of Protection against Unfair Competition) in Bad Homburg, or Integritas (the self-regulatory body for pharmaceutical advertising) in Bonn.

If an advertiser fails to modify or discontinue an advertisement, Deutscher Werberat issues a reprimand and makes the case public: Mass media editorial departments are sent a release on the reprimand which is then reported and commented upon in the press. A public reprimand is rarely necessary: If a complaint is upheld, the advertiser generally complies with Deutscher Werberat’s request to modify or discontinue the advertisement.

Problems involving cross-border advertising are addressed by the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) based in Brussels (www.easa-alliance.com). This institution, largely founded at the initiative of ZAW, forwards complaints relating to foreign advertisements to the national advertising standards authority in the country concerned. Through the EASA, Deutscher Werberat is also in constant exchange with other self-regulatory bodies of the European advertising industry.