VIEWPOINT: THE MARCH ON MADISON AVE.; CRYING WOLF

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THE MARCH ON MADISON AVE.

Should some in the ad industry feel unfairly targeted by New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton's march on Madison Avenue, they should recall what triggered the event: a racially insulting sales memo from inside the business, drafted at Katz Media's Amcast division. And then they should ask if such a thing could happen in their own organization.

The Katz memo, discussing how to compete against "urban" radio stations programmed for minorities, suggested reminding media buyers that they "want prospects, not suspects." Katz executives have apologized, but the damage was done. The memo confirmed suspicions among Mr. Sharpton's group that minorities and minority media are being unfairly excluded from advertising dollars and jobs. And no doubt there are some frustrated minority media executives and minority workers at agencies and marketers who might sympathize with that view.

These are complicated issues, especially those involving where and how advertisers spend their media dollars. Mr. Sharpton, a man seemingly most comfortable when he is making demands and issuing ultimatums, is not the best choice for dealing with them. But ad industry people who work on these questions, particularly with efforts to add more minorities to their work forces, are likewise frustrated at the slow pace of change.

Mr. Sharpton's accusation that marketers and agencies are part of a "systematic and pervasive" effort to exclude minorities is overheated rhetoric. But how to get more minorities into the advertising and marketing business, and how much to spend, and where, to sell to this multicultural marketplace, are real concerns. Many in the ad industry have thought long and hard about them. Whether Mr. Sharpton cares to listen to what they have to say is another matter.

CRYING WOLF

Center for science in the Public Interest and its leader, Michael Jacobson, have never been ones to stay out of the limelight for long, and with regard to the development of the olestra fat substitute by Procter & Gamble Co., the special-interest group has been ranting and raving for a long time. Hopefully that is over now.

A Food & Drug Administration advisory committee once again has reviewed -- and reaffirmed -- the use of P&G's Olean-branded ingredient, and that should be the end of one of the longest approval processes in the history of the U.S. P&G discovered the ingredient in 1968 and has been dealing with the government on getting this product to market since 1975. In that year, it submitted to FDA an initial, ill-fated petition to get olestra approved as a drug. After amending its request, to reclassify olestra as a food, truckloads of data were submitted to the agency. FDA actually had to change its procedures along the way, and it requested seemingly endless new testing.

After all that, approval was granted in 1996. Since then, both P&G and snack giant Frito-Lay have been conducting extensive test-marketing. Now their products -- potato chips containing the fat substitute, which is not absorbed by the body -- are being introduced nationally.

So let the marketing begin! CSPI, which has been hounding P&G publicly since at least 1987, should now back off of its orchestrated, publicity-seeking barrage against what is surely one of the most-researched food developments ever. Mr. Jacobson, whom The New Republic called "the closest thing we have to a national nag," should just fold up his Web site and move on.

Not that he will, of course; CSPI already has filed another petition, about Olean-product package labeling. But the U.S. consumer, not this one-trick, self-proclaimed consumer advocate, should be allowed to determine, finally, the success or failure of olestra -- by buying or leaving on the shelves Frito-Lay's Wow! and P&G's Fat Free Pringles.

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