Marketing ethics

The issue

Marketing has the potential to influence beliefs and behaviours. Meeting high ethical standards is important to protect the interests of consumers and the public, and the reputation of our clients and WPP. We need to take a consistent approach across our 2,500 offices, and to keep up with changes in regulation and technology and evolving public attitudes to questions of taste and decency. 

Our response

All marketing communications produced by WPP companies should be fair and accurate, comply with the relevant laws and marketing codes, and reflect changing public attitudes to questions of taste and decency. Our companies are expected to take particular care when marketing sensitive products or when marketing to children. We will not produce work for our clients that ‘greenwashes’ the environmental performance of their company or brands.

Our Code of Conduct and Sustainability Policy contain guidance for our companies and employees on the standards we expect (see Guidance from the Group panel below). Issues relating to marketing ethics and topics such as ethical decision-making and privacy are covered in our ethics training, compulsory for all Group people. See Business ethics.

We expect all our companies to comply with marketing regulations and industry codes of practice. However, out of the many thousands of campaigns our companies produce each year, a small number do give rise to complaints, some of which are upheld by authorities. We aim to track and report all upheld complaints against work by WPP companies. See Key numbers.

Our companies are involved in the debate on marketing standards. Many professionals from our companies participate in industry groups and help to develop and evolve codes of practice. For example, Julie Halpin, CEO of The Geppetto Group, is on the Board of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit; Matt Giegerich, chairman and CEO of Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, is on the Board of the Medical Advertising Agency Committee (MAAC – 4As); Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Information Council of the World Economic Forum; and Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer at Landor Associates, is on the Board of Trustees of the Advertising Educational Foundation.

Guidance from the Group

Our Sustainability Policy and Code of Conduct provide guiding principles for our companies and people. Key extracts are as follows:

We will not knowingly create work which contains statements, suggestions or images offensive to general public decency and will give appropriate consideration to the impact of our work on minority segments of the population, whether that minority be by race, religion, national origin, colour, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or disability.

We will not undertake work which is intended or designed to mislead, including in relation to social, environmental and human rights issues.

We will consider the potential for clients or work to damage the Group’s reputation prior to taking them on. This includes reputational damage due to participating in business activities that abuse human rights.

WPP companies will comply with applicable regulations and self-regulatory codes of practice in the countries in which they operate.

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