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ICC Updates Marketing and Advertising Code of Conduct for International Trade

By Megan Doyle

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) recently updated its Advertising and Marketing Communications Code, extending the code’s core principles to the digital realm. The new code aims to raise consumer protection standards around the world, helping businesses involved in international trade better understand how digital marketing technology allows brands to rapidly transcend borders, even as it changes the way consumers experience advertising.1

According to the ICC, the combination of digital media and “growing concerns about corporate social responsibility” challenge previously accepted marketing standards for international trade-related communication.2 The updated code speaks to the modern business landscape by providing information on digital tactics including artificial intelligence-enabled marketing, data analytics, social media, blogging, and more.3


ICC’s Code Aims to Help SMEs Advertise for International Trade


While e-commerce platforms and international shipping firms put international trade growth within the grasp of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), marketing and advertising are still necessary for companies to communicate about their products and services. According to the ICC, marketing communications can help create efficient markets around the world by promoting such international trade and worldwide economic development.4


While international marketing gives businesses access to new overseas customers, local factors like cultural traditions and norms can get in the way of cross-border trade. An advertisement with subject matter customary to U.S. culture might be deemed unacceptable in other cultures – and vice versa.5


The purpose of the ICC’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Code of Conduct is to address such cross-cultural risks in the pursuit of international trade by providing a framework to guide businesses toward globally applicable ethical advertising practices.6 According to the ICC, ethical practices are defined as honest, decent, legal, transparent, and socially responsible, and can improve public confidence in marketing by protecting consumers from misleading or offensive advertisements.7 Since the ICC’s code is for industry self-regulation, it does not constitute international trade law. It does, however, aim to preserve marketers’ freedom of expression by limiting the need for potentially stricter government regulations.8


The ICC believes that if marketing practices align with its code, cross-border marketing can positively impact a company’s brand value, reputation, and customer satisfaction, as well as its industry as a whole.9


Updated Code Details Digital Marketing and Advertising


Digital marketing and advertising have made it easier than ever before for businesses of all sizes to enter foreign markets, but it has also introduced myriad complexities. Internet anonymity, for example, can allow a business to write positive reviews about its own product. However, this is considered unethical according to the ICC’s code because it masks the marketer’s identity.10 “The digital transformation of marketing and advertising underscores the critical importance of trust between consumers and companies,” says ICC Secretary General John Denton.11


As such, the updated code aims to combat the complexities and potential ambiguities introduced into international trade by new technologies and digital marketing capabilities. The new code updates terminology, introduces standards based on the ubiquity of the internet and mobile phones, includes detailed information on how to distinguish between editorial and user-generated content, and refines rules on advertising that targets individuals under the age of 18.12 For example, the new code seeks to address the fact that many children now have internet access by suggesting marketers encourage parents to monitor their children’s web interactions. Similarly, websites devoted to products subject to age restrictions are encouraged to take measures to prevent access by children and teens.13


The code also expands its scope to include guidelines for social media advertisers, bloggers, data analytic companies, ad tech companies, those who use artificial intelligence for marketing purposes, and more.14 Data analytic companies, for example, must adhere to data protection and privacy standards. According to the ICC code, consumers must be informed if their data is being collected and marketing companies must keep data secure and may only use personal information for legitimate purposes.15



Marketing is a vital function of international trade, necessary for SMEs and large corporations alike. It can help shape the image of an organization and catalyze competitive advantage, all while connecting consumers to products. As digital technology makes this process both easier and more complex than ever before, recent updates to the ICC’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Code may benefit both consumers and businesses by outlining standards to inspire ethical advertising.

Megan Doyle - The Author

The Author

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher based in Wantagh, NY, whose work focuses primarily on financial services technology.


1. “EMA ICC Code for Ethical Marketing and Advertising,” ICC Academy;
2. Ibid.
3. “ICC releases new code of conduct for global marketing and advertising industry,” ICC;
4. ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code: 2018 Edition, ICC;
5. “7.2 Advantages and Disadvantages of Competing in International Markets,” University of Minnesota Textbook Library;
6. “ICC releases new code of conduct for global marketing and advertising industry,” ICC;
7. “EMA ICC Code for Ethical Marketing and Advertising,” ICC Academy;
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code: 2018 Edition, ICC;
11. “ICC releases new code of conduct for global marketing and advertising industry,” ICC;
12. “ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code,” ICC;
13. ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code: 2018 Edition, ICC;
14. “ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code,” ICC;
15. ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code: 2018 Edition, ICC;

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