THE RIGHT CYBERAD WATCHDOG

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Looking for familiar signposts in the world of cyberspace marketing? Then here's encouraging news. The Council of Better Business Bureaus' National Advertising Division has announced it intends to start monitoring ads in the online world.

Over its 20-year history, NAD has proved its value. Marshaling ad industry support, it builds consensus for basic ideas of good advertising practice; provides a low-cost, voluntary forum for airing challenges to ad claims and practices, whether those challenges are brought by competitors, consumers or NAD staff itself; and, working with the industry-organized National Advertising Review Board, lets marketers examine specific areas where self-regulatory standards don't exist or are in need of change.

NAD's kind of flexibility and informality is what's needed-now-as the online marketing medium develops. NAD has much to learn about online marketing, yet the Federal Trade Commission appears willing to let NAD and the ad industry deal with issues of honesty and fairness before imposing any sweeping government controls on the online marketplace.

Part of the excitement about cyberspace, and cyberspace marketing, is that it is so experimental and evolutionary, and that it is growing largely free of government regulations. No one quite knows its true benefits, or its pitfalls-not today's online pioneers or consumers, and certainly not the government.

This is no longer a frontier village without need of some form of law and order, however. The anything-goes freedom cyberspace pioneers relished needs to be tempered as it becomes a mass medium. Some problems demand attention from governments, such as how to curb trafficking in pornography and information potentially useful to terrorists. But the online world's commercial evolution can best benefit today from the thoughtful attention of users who care about its long-term success. For that reason, online marketers and media should welcome-and financially support-NAD in its new watchdog mission.

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