Nestle, Infant Formula, and Excuses: The Regulation of Commercial Advertising in Developing Nations

Finkle, Caryn L. | January 1, 1994

Advertising has been recognized as one of the most persuasive forms of communication.’ Can it also endanger the cultural autonomy of a nation? This comment addresses the potential role of advertising in developing countries and its regulation by the international community. The central question of this analysis is whether or not the advertising of the most developed nations, particularly the advertising produced by the so called “western media,”2 is a threat to the cultural survival of developing countries.’ The answer to this question as reflected in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes4 is yes. The Code recommends a complete ban on advertising and marketing of any breastmilk substitutes in developing countries.5 The apparent rationale behind this recommendation is the protection of the developing countries cultural autonomy.6 Unfortunately, a restrictive and paternalistic approach to advertising in these nations is detrimental to their economic development. Moreover, two very important factors are ignored: the wants and needs of the developing countries and the positive uses and effects of advertising. Deregulating commercial advertising in developing countries would allow advertising to benefit these countries culturally, by reinforcing and illustrating positive behavior and value systems, and economically, by providing funding for technological advancement. Strict regulation of the industry will deprive these communities of advertising’s aid in their development.