At BBDO, as Mr. Mercer related in his first-person account of the "marbles in the soup" case last week, the agency had deftly solved a creative problem-how to show the star-shaped pasta in a bowl of soup-by placing pieces of glass in the bowl to get the pasta to rise to the top. "I didn't feel it was cheating or dishonest or illegal," he recalled. "It was artifice, the technique of art. Illusion.*.*.We just took it for granted."
That is until FTC unexpectedly challenged the practice of "propping" as deceptive. Though they settled with the commission, Campbell and BBDO never agreed they had done anything wrong, and the tangled case dragged on for three years of unusual legal twists and turns that cost Campbell and BBDO time and money. And to what end?
To this end: This case today is seen as the start of the dramatic process that eventually raised prevailing notions of fair play in advertising to higher levels, introduced the still-controversial concept of corrective advertising and led the ad industry to develop and successfully implement self-regulation for national advertising.
The Campbell case and others that followed have not ended the use of props and simulations in ads, but today's advertisers and ad makers have a much better understanding of when and how they can be used without giving a misleading message about the featured product.
"The bottom line," New York ad maker Mark Burrow told Ad Age reporter Julia Miller, "is that we can make something aesthetically prettier than it is, but not say that it works better than it does."
Honest ad people felt their integrity questioned by the Campbell case as government prodded the industry to adopt higher standards of accuracy. Their legacy is an ad business that has learned how to meet that challenge.