FTC TO MEDIA: SCREEN ADS BETTER

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Media programs that screen for deceptive ads have long played an essential role in the national advertising infrastructure. More needs to be done, however. This magazine's recent support for these programs ("Just Say No" editorial, AA, April 1) couldn't be more timely or welcome. Now is the time for both the media and the advertising industry to take steps to reaffirm the importance of the process.

For years the media, particularly the major broadcast networks, have screened advertising claims before they are run. Media screening efforts provide many benefits, including intercepting some deceptive advertising before it is disseminated and maintaining advertising credibility in general, as well as the reputation of advertisers and the media.

The FTC's recent law enforcement experience, however, suggests that some media members are not doing all they might do. For example, no matter how many cases the Federal Trade Commission brings, there is never a shortage of advertising of miracle diet pills or products, such as in the radio ad we challenged that said, "lose 6 to 30 inches on your first visit." Similarly, we continue to see and challenge ads that run in national publications for self-improvement products such as the "Learning Machine," which claim that consumers will learn foreign languages overnight. These claims provide good examples of ads that an alert media screening process should have stopped.

In the past year, the FTC has moved on a number of fronts to emphasize the importance of media screening. First, last spring we joined with the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation and the Association of National Advertisers and others in sponsoring a media screening conference. Second, recent enforcement actions have identified the media that disseminated the challenged ads. For example, a recent Commission press release noted that the allegedly deceptive ads for weight-loss products appeared in specific magazines directed at teen-age girls. Finally, FTC staff have met with media representatives to explore how screening might be stepped up and how the FTC can facilitate such efforts. The cable television industry has already responded to our concerns by stating that it will make screening a priority issue in the coming year. We hope other media will also be responsive.

Effective media screening remains a critical way to control deceptive advertising. While much has been accomplished to date, still more can be done. The advertising industry, the media, and also consumers have a large stake in ensuring that the value of national advertising is not diminished because of fraudulent claims.

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