BURT QUIXOTE;PICTURE THIS

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Every election year, advertising industry folks writhe as they watch politicians run advertising so biased and untruthful that a product commercial of that stripe would land somebody in court if not in jail.

It's not just public spirit at work here; advertising professionals feel political ad excesses give all advertising a bad name and increase the likelihood of government regulation.

And every election year, some people in the general ad industry call for some sort of system to expose these political junk ads, if not eliminate them.

Last month, J. Walter Thompson Co. CEO Burt Manning used his valedictory speech as chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies to announce that the Four A's, teamed with the American Advertising Federation, will attempt to "cast a public spotlight" on negative political ads by urging the media to publish critiques of the offenders.

When the late John O'Toole was head of the Four A's, he set up a plan to monitor political ads and also publicize false or misleading ones. The plan was shortlived; it backfired when the opposition pol touted the Four A's rebuke in his or her own ads, usually in a misleading manner.

The American Association of Political Consultants, of course, has sneered at the ad industry's repeated calls for monitoring or codes of conduct, responding with a list of the sins of product advertising-cigarette ads, for example.

Ad industry attempts to apply its principals to political advertising will continue to fail, because of the simple fact that political advertising is different.

Product advertising that over-promises or deceives hurts repeat sales and reduces market share. But political advertising is a one-time proposition. No share of market, no repeat sale, no flanker brands. It's all or nothing on that one sale date-election day.

Further, no regulatory group is likely to reign in political excesses, and media that set up their own screening are likely to run into First Amendment problems.

The best move for the ad industry would be to urge citizens-thinking folks who can discern bombast from fact-to vote against those who sully the media with false and offensive political advertising.

Losing is the best penalty.

Ad agency executives liked what they heard from keynoter George M.C. Fisher, chairman-president-CEO of Eastman Kodak Co., at the Four A's meeting. And as long as he wasn't just telling them what they wanted to hear, the agency community has reason to applaud.

After all, here was a major advertiser throwing down a challenge not to agencies but to other marketers, admitting they too often relegate agencies "to being no more than suppliers."

Mr. Fisher said Kodak will give each of its four agencies a research & development budget "to experiment...and to innovate without any strings attached," and urged other marketers to follow suit.

With big agencies-and their clients-bemoaning the stifling of creativity by "the [bureaucratic] process," it's great to see at least one marketer back its words with its wallet.

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