P&G Lawyer Calls Upon Ad Industry to Work at Defending Self-Regulation

At ANA Conference, Majoras Says It's Time to Back Up Rhetoric With Facts

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A top lawyer for Procter & Gamble called upon industry executives to work harder than ever to defend self-regulation of the ad business at a gathering of top advertisers today.

Deborah Platt Majoras
Deborah Platt Majoras Credit: AP
Speaking about the tough economic environment and increased government involvement in business affairs, Deborah Platt Majoras, VP-general counsel at P&G, said the ad business has to tout that it has been responsible and doesn't need additional oversight.

The current business environment -- one in which market failures have prompted government bailouts and heightened government oversight -- is leading to a more skeptical outlook from policymakers about self-regulation. '

"The road ahead is not going to be easy, but we are not helpless," said Ms. Majoras, who, prior to joining P&G served as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission from 2004 to 2008. "The industry has been far more responsible than we get credit for. It's time that we backed up rhetoric with facts," she said.

An optimistic start
Ms. Majoras, the keynote speaker at the Association of National Advertisers' Advertising Law and Business Affairs Conference, kicked off the conference on an optimistic note this morning. As is the case with most events these days, attendance for the two-day affair in New York is down. Nearly 150 executives registered for the conference this year, a 25% drop-off from the 200 or so who registered in 2008, organizers said.

Ms. Majoras expressed confidence that the FTC, under new leadership in Jon Leibowitz, is willing to give self-regulation a chance. At the same time, the ball is in the industry's court, she said. Advertisers shouldn't wait for mandates to be handed down from regulators, but rather take it upon themselves to be more responsible.

Among other things, everyone must step up efforts to advertise at a high level of effectiveness, only make claims that can be substantiated, and ensure protection of consumers' privacy. Advertisers should be thinking about making disclosures about their marketing practices, regardless of whether or not the FTC requires them.

"We can't foster trust with consumers now if they feel like they've been had," Ms. Majoras said. The online space is one in which advertisers must be particularly cautious -- and transparent -- because consumers feel a unique sense of ownership over the internet.

Making the case
Ms. Majoras, referencing Rance Crain's recent column in Ad Age, "Self-Regulation Shouldn't Be Advertising's Best-Kept Secret," stressed that steadfast believers in self-regulation must be prepared to "make the case," and should think about ways to better articulate and get the message out there.

She also reiterated a few talking points for the audience, including that the ad industry's system of regulation is flexible, prompt and responsive; it benefits from the accumulated judgment of industry experts; there is an inherent buy-in for the system, which makes it effective; and the cost burden falls upon industry participants rather than taxpayers.

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