Not so long ago manufacturers of cigarettes and alcohol liberally advertised their products in most media and in many parts of the world; companies including Philip Morris, RJR, and Anheuser-Busch were thriving in overseas markets since their items, positioned as part of Americana, were strongly desired. But then the World Health Organization and the governments of North America and Western Europe realized that such products, while in strong demand, were potentially hazardous to the public's health, and restrictions were placed on their advertising through the mass media, especially television (Boddewyn, 1991).
Ironically, throughout the 1980s, necessity dictated that mass media be used to inform the public about another sensitive issue--Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). And while in some cases television has been used with other socially sensitive products, marketers have generally found that demographically more selective media were the preferred vehicles for such messages; college students especially rely on magazines for this information (Edgar, Freimuth, and Hammond, 1988).
Magazines are in many cases the median advertisers turn to when they must promote socially sensitive products and issues--for they are capable of hitting highly selective demographic groups with closely defined messages (Kotler and Armstrong, 1994). And for products such as underwear, condoms, feminine hygiene products and some kinds of pharmaceuticals, this kind of advertising is efficient and helps companies avoid the unwelcome attentions and embarrassment that can occur when undiscriminating media are used (Rotfeld and Parsons, 1989). Magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy have been avenues often used to advertise these items in various countries; they share the same editorial formula and reach similar international target groups, but are published by different publishers in each country (DeMooij and Keegan, 1991).
Yet magazines are also subject to countries' laws and guidelines regarding public acceptability of advertisements. And globally there is much disparity between nations about what constitutes good taste and socially responsible advertising (Gnepa, 1993; Graham, Kamins and Oetomo, 1993). The sexual mores of Scandanavia tend to be more liberal than those in the developing countries such as the Middle East. Similarly, some nations (e.g. U.S., Scandanavia, Germany) rely more heavily on legal frameworks to shape individuals' behaviors; whereas the countries of Asia and Latin America tend to depend more on heavy social codes to control societal behavior (Hall, 1976).
The problem is that while legal and social restrictions on advertising has generated some research (Boddewyn and Kunz, 1991; Moschis, 1989; Rotfeld and Parsons, 1989) and discussion, there has not to date been a systematic survey of managerial perceptions of such restrictions; and such perceptions are important in view of differences between commercial laws as they are written and as they are practiced (Boddewyn and Kunz, 1991).
So which parts of the world are perceived to be the most restrictive from an advertiser's perspective? Using managerial perceptions of restrictions on an acknowledged set of socially sensitive products, we contrast and compare levels of legal and social constraints across individual and groups of countries. Data were collected from foreign affiliates of 15 U.S. advertising agencies in 52 countries.
WHAT ARE "SENSITIVE PRODUCTS"?
Sensitive products seem to fall into two categories. First, there are socially embarrassing products "that for reasons of delicacy, decency, morality, or even fear tend to elicit reactions of distaste, disgust, offense, or outrage when mentioned or when openly presented" (Wilson and West, 1981). Into this category fall items such as underwear, condoms, female hygiene products and the like. Second, some products' advertising is restricted for legal reasons, because societies fear the consequences of excessive marketplace exposure. …