Manning Attacks Political Ads: Fear Of Government Intervention Resurrects O'Toole's Long Crusade

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The ad industry faces a regulatory backlash unless it can persuade media consultants to clean up political campaign advertising, warned J. Walter Thompson Co. Chairman-CEO Burt Manning, outgoing chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

"The Four A's should formally and publicly urge media consultants to set up their own self-regulatory process with the same standards" as the rest of the ad community, Mr. Manning told senior agency executives at the group's annual meeting last week in Indian Wells, Calif.

O'TOOLE'S MANTLE

Mr. Manning is picking up the mantle of former Four A's President John O'Toole, who throughout much of his tenure fought publicly and unsuccessfully with the American Association of Political Consultants over this issue.

At the meeting, the Four A's announced an initiative called "Political Advertising Repair." Joining with the American Advertising Federation, the Four A's said PAR "will cast a public spotlight on campaign claims, negativity, statements and pictures" by encouraging local and national media to publish truthfulness critiques of political ads.

MANNING'S APOLOGY

The idea sounds similar to projects Mr. O'Toole tried during previous presidential elections.

In fact, Mr. Manning publicly apologized to the late Mr. O'Toole for not taking note of this problem several years ago when the Four A's president had brought it up.

Mr. Manning cited as ammunition the latest Yankelovich Monitor, which states that 63% of consumers said government should regulate "truth in advertising," up from 49% two years ago.

However, it appears to have been all advertising, not just political advertising, that was cited.

Violence on TV was the next thing consumers wanted regulated, close at 62%, followed by toxic waste at 61%.

Mr. Manning suggested the industry support free TV airtime for candidates as a means of pressuring media consultants.

"If there is a threat to their income, maybe they will respond," he said, adding that contributors also can make a difference by indicating the money cannot be spent on "nasty" ads.

Political media consultants consistently have responded to the Four A's efforts for self-regulation with retorts that general advertising clean up its act and not advertise tobacco and other products that, they say, can do more harm than political ads.

FEAR OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL

Mr. Manning fears the next step will be government control. That danger is much nearer than many in the industry would guess, he said, adding that such oversight could cripple advertising effectiveness.

"Consumers don't differentiate between protected free speech and unprotected," said David Bell, chairman-CEO of Bozell Worldwide, New York, who succeeds Mr. Manning atop the Four A's. "To them it's just advertising. So it's definitely a problem."

Lee Lynch, chairman-CEO of Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, is circulating a campaign ad code for candidates in Minnesota.

Also addressing the long-term health of the industry was George Fisher, chairman-CEO of Eastman Kodak Co.

`SO MANY RULES'

"Sometimes we establish so many rules, regulations and research requirements it is a wonder that we still use the word `creative,"' he told the gathering. "My basic message to clients is this: Turn your agencies loose."

Mr. Fisher said he would give his agencies seed money for a fund "to experiment, to discover and to innovate without any strings attached."

Carl Gustin, Kodak's chief marketing officer, said the total R&D fund for the agencies- JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi Business Communications and UniWorld Group-will be in the "millions." Frank Schumacher, O&M partner-management supervisor, said "right now, it's just a philosophy. They said, `Tell us what it'll cost,' but we just haven't worked out the details yet."

Contributing: Scott Donaton, Michael Wilke.

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