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VIEWS;GUEST COLUMNIST;PREDICTION: RESPONSIBLE ACTION WILL STALL REGULATION

By Published on .

Advertisers today are focused on specific legal issues such as tobacco ads and advertising aimed at children. Regulatory expert Carla Michelotti identifies three regulatory trends for Advertising Age International's readers.

Content control: Ad bans and unreasonable advertising restrictions are here to stay. All ad ban proposals are offered to either attempt behavior modification, or to increase revenue. Too often advertising is a pawn to attempt both. Expect these social issues to be the subject of advertising scrutiny: gambling, alcohol consumption, children's eating habits, nutritional needs, violence and educational content of programs, tobacco consumption, fat consumption, sugar consumption, caffeine consumption, sexual morality, driving habits. Although the stated goals may be admirable, there are always reasons to suggest restricting advertising. Advertising is not popular. Around the world today the advertising for many products is banned ... and unless one of those products is a client, too often advertising executives do not care.

The desire to control content has spread to interactive media. The United States government attempted to ban certain content on the Internet. A lower court has declared the Communication Decency Act unconstitutional ... thanks to litigation brought by Microsoft, AOL, the ACLU and others.

Expect advertising regulators to become very concerned about the use of consumer privacy. Consumer groups are already asking governments to act. The EU has long been concerned about how advertisers can gather, maintain, share, and use the data gathered. We have already seen the U.S. Federal Trade Commission hold a hearing on Consumer Privacy. Prediction: The governments of the world will want to restrict the manner of consumer data. Opportunity: The advertisers of the world not blow it now at this critical point . . . before real use of personal data begins. As an Industry, we need to balance the interests of consumers and trade. We need to act responsibly with the data we gather and not "push the lines" only to encourage the regulatory walls to emerge.

The battle lines over privacy are just forming. Take care when gathering and using consumer data, the use of databases may not be unrestricted in the future.

Blending of advertising and information. The real advertising opportunity on the Internet is the bleeding of advertising and information. Predicted Concerns: There are no commercial "breaks." The Internet does not always easily identify the "who" behind every message. There is an instant credibility in the "printed" word on your screen. There is an ability to "lift" logos, basically falsifying the authenticity of information. Advertisers beware: The fact that this is still such a new medium will continue to concern regulators.

Advertising is the fuel of the information superhighway. Media has exploded because we (the advertising community) have given consumers reasons to go there. The Internet can be around for years, but without interesting content, consumers will not afford to keep visiting.

Governments will become very nervous about advertisers disseminating information to consumers. Read that as an "Advertisers do not trespass" sign on the Internet. Governments will be concerned that information will be biased; regulators may too quickly conclude that sponsored information cannot be trustworthy. Opportunity: Advertisers must provide accurate and meaningful information. We must be able to blend advertising and information sr the Internet to be as great as it can.

We have the chance to create a future interactive advertising environment if we act responsibly and honestly. We need to be aware that as information is blended in editorial content, the game may have changed but the rules are the same: "truth in advertising" still exists. There is no country that tolerates falsehoods in advertising.

Regardless of the many international jurisdictional questions to be hashed out in this new media: We should all respect rules requiring accurate statements about the products and services being advertised. We have real value to add. There is information to share. Let's act responsibly so that we do not trigger unnecessary regulations.

Carla Michelotti is senior vice president associate general counsel, director of government affairs of Leo Burnett, Co. Inc. She is based in Chicago.

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