Self-reg: effective, not sexy

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James R. Guthrie, president-CEO of the National Advertising Review Council since 2001, finds himself at the vortex of the childhood-obesity debate as its Children's Advertising Review Unit becomes marketers' best hope of avoiding legislation through self-regulation.

AA: Is it realistic to expect CARU to regulate food-industry ads, given the fact that a number of the objections have little to do with the accuracy issues CARU was originally formed to address?

Mr. Guthrie: CARU was never intended to be the arbiter of what products should or should not be manufactured or sold, or to tell parents or children what they should or shouldn't buy. That being said, were an industry group to promulgate or embrace standards that were more stringent than our guidelines and ask CARU to monitor compliance with those as well, CARU would do so.

AA: How can consumers expect a bunch of marketers to really protect people from themselves?

Mr. Guthrie: Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, chair of the Institute of Medicine committee, as well as Deborah Majoras, FTC chair, said there is no one solution. Each was particularly clear that advertising was only a small part of a dialogue that begins with "just say no."

AA: CARU has been known as a rather gentlemanly way to settle ad disputes. With all this attention to kids' ads, will the gloves come off now? Is it time for sanctions?

Mr. Guthrie: As long as we have over 95% compliance, I don't see that sanctions are necessary. I would like to see more competitive challenges like NAD gets, though.

AA: How do you feel about the attention this area is suddenly attracting from people like Hillary Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. How has it changed life as you know it and your relationship to your family, dog and the world?

Mr. Guthrie: Self-regulation has never gotten its due. It is like a good insurance policy-there when it is needed but not an exciting topic of discussion. My goal has been to raise the visibility of self-regulation and, frankly, this dialogue has given it a jumpstart. My family is seeing a little less of me these days- particularly my dog, who is getting old and is asleep when I get home.

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