Episode #1: Advertising Priorities through EU Lens

Advertising Priorities through EU Lens

Issues related to advertising are highly prevalent on the agendas of both the European Commission and European Parliament. However, according to the former Senior Public Affairs Manager at EACA, Nina Elzer, the views in Commission are quite reasonable while those in Parliament tend to be more critical. Subjects under discussion include targeted advertising under the GDPR, disinformation, and targeted advertising of unhealthy foods. Whether or not any bans will be put in place remains to be seen, but Commission and Parliament have both made very clear that they plan to be quite active in this policy area over 2022.

Many in the advertising industry have been worried about the possibility of a ban on targeted advertising, however, Elzer feels that this scenario is unlikely. What are more probable, she explains, are bans on targeting to children and targeting based on sensitive personal data. To use sensitive personal data for targeting requires explicit consent from the data subject under the GDPR and this will continue. Sensitive personal data includes information such as health history, criminal history, or political party affiliation. What this means for the advertising industry is that little is changing from the requirements set by the GDPR back in 2018, the only time targeted ads would be completely banned would be in the case where the data subject is a child.

Specifically, Elzer highlighted the high likelihood of new EU legislation surrounding the advertising of foods high in salt, sugar, and fat. This is an area of concern particularly when the ads are being targeted towards children. Since several member states (Ireland, Spain, and Germany) have already banned targeting junk food advertisements to children, Elzer believes that the Commission will face significant pressure to propose similar legislation at the EU level. However, even in the case of junk foods, it does not seem likely that an all-out ban on targeted advertising will be put In place, but bans on targeting to children do seem to be the next step.

Finally, in terms of disinformation, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional concerns due to the increased risk of disinformation related to public health. When it comes to information on a potentially deadly virus, it is absolutely imperative for the public to have all the facts. For this reason, the 2018 Code of Practice on Disinformation has been deemed ineffective by Commission. A new code will be proposed in 2022 to better tackle the increased threat posed by the spread of falsehoods. The new code will increase the responsibility of online platforms to take disinformation much more seriously and be more efficient in preventing its spread since the stakes have never been higher [1].

All in all, Elzer finds the Commission’s stance on advertising-related policies to be “very reasonable” [2]. While the debates around these topics in the European Parliament may be publicized in an inflammatory way by insinuating that there will be outright bans on targeted advertising, the reality is that the EU’s goal is to protect children. A ban on targeting to children may come into place, specific bans on advertising junk foods to children may be put in place, but there seems to be very little chance of a complete ban on targeted advertising. Additionally, explicit consent will be required when targeting based on sensitive personal data, particularly in the realm of political advertising.

Finally, the largest change will come under the new Code of Practice on Disinformation coming into effect in 2022 which will place more pressure on online platforms to combat disinformation, especially given the pandemic. The EU’s agenda on advertising-related issues is evolving with the times and demonstrates the primary goal of keeping EU citizens, particularly children, safe from data privacy infringements, unhealthy foods, and false public health information.

Hear more about it in the first episode of Advertising Europe:


  1. https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/code-of-practice-on-disinformation-revision-extended-into-2022/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gG5MoZt3h0

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