Nader's Commercial Alert fires first at telemarketing

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Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has organized a group to fight what he calls a new enemy of consumers--rampant commercialism.

Mr. Nader said his Commercial Alert is intended to help parents and communities defend themselves against harmful, immoral or intrusive marketing campaigns.

"Almost every day I see something that is an example of commercialization growing haywire," said Mr. Nader. "I see commercializing of college campuses in exclusive contracts, exploitation of children's entertainment, the [American Medical Association] and PTA [selling sponsorships]. All the barriers are falling."


Mr. Nader also decried the ubiquity of ad messages, particularly in places once considered off-limits, such as schools.

"In terms of sheer advertising, people are advertising on places once taboo. A few years ago, there was a proposal to advertise on stamps. Now people block the sky with ads, and there is far more advertising per hour on TV. It's an excess."

Mr. Nader said his new group will work against commercialism by publicizing examples of marketers that have gone too far.

"We have to start a national debate on excessive commercialism ... make it a subject of discourse," he said.

In its first formal proposal, Commercial Alert last week called for Congress and state legislatures to establish "family hours"--between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.--when telemarketing would be barred.


The Federal Communications Commission limits telemarketers to calling between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., so the proposal's effect would be to limit calls to daytime during the week and weekends.

Mr. Ruskin said families spending time together during "family time" is "much more important than what telemarketers do."

The Direct Marketing Association suggested such laws would make it impossible to contact people who work during the day and said the growth in telemarketing sales shows that consumers like telemarketing.

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers, called the organization's agenda "nothing new" and said the Center for Science in the Public Interest had a similar mission.


"Nader's name adds a little bit more credibility here, but the sweeping attack on commercialism seems misguided," said Mr. Jaffe. "If there is false or deceptive or illegally targeted to young people [advertising], all the law is already there to attack it. Beyond that, the American people have to decide, but the idea that commercialism in general is evil is very misguided. It is the engine that drives our economy."

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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