Commentary by Rance Crain


But Agency Support for Regulatory Group Dwindles

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The good news -- and you heard it here first -- is the National Advertising Review Council is staying in New York.
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

Previous Columns.
The bad news? The NARC and its president, Jim Guthrie, must raise $90,000 to fix up new offices in midtown Manhattan.

The approval from the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which funds the NARC self-regulation program, came with 80% of CBBB executive committee members voting in favor of NARC staying in New York, CBBB President Ken Hunter told me. "You don't even get that for presidents," he quipped. But Ken acknowledged that the votes against the proposal were cast by local Better Business Bureau CEOs or local members who don't see the need to align CBBB with a national ad-review program.

Ad industry groups were ready to take over funding of the NARC if the CBBB had voted to move NARC to CBBB's national office in Arlington, Va. As it is, CBBB will sublease about 4,000 square feet of space in Arlington now that NARC is staying put.

'No vindictiveness'
The real-estate decision was made, Ken said, based purely on money. "There was no vindictiveness" about whether CBBB should continue to support NARC, he added. The numbers showed that it would have cost the CBBB more money to move NARC to Arlington than to keep it in New York.

Both the CBBB and the NARC have major funding problems. The economic downturn caused the CBBB to report a $900,000 loss last year (on an accrual basis). And the NARC is having a hard time lining up

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support from ad agencies and media, although most of the big agencies are members of CBBB (which funnels some dues money back to NARC). ABC TV is a member, and just recently the Magazine Publishers of America and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau have joined.

Agencies unaware
One of the problems is that ad agencies often don't even know when their clients are involved in a NARC self-regulatory case because the clients don't want to involve them. Client-agency relationships are so short these days that clients are often reluctant to share the kind of R&D data used in NARC cases with their agency.

As for the media, "They don't get it that everyone is a stakeholder in the advertising process," I was told.

I get the feeling the relationship between the ad trade groups and their partner, the CBBB, is becoming increasingly strained over NARC issues. The ad groups were stunned when we wrote that the CBBB was close to signing a "dispute-resolution" deal with Coors Brewing Co. Now that the program is getting under way, ad execs say the CBBB has no business being involved in the national ad arena to decide whether Coors is living up to its pledge not to promote over-consumption or underage consumption of beer.

There's no question that the CBBB's Ken Hunter is a big supporter of self-regulation. But debate continues to rage among the ad groups about whether the local BBBs share his commitment, and there's growing concern about CBBB's internal divisions and continuing severe money problems.

Coors, for its part, is inviting questions about compliance with its pledge not to promote over-consumption. Current spots for Coors Light show young people whooping it up as the music blares, "I love burritos at 4 a.m., parties that never end ..."

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