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For a few campaign days in February, the hot issue among Republican candidates seeking the highest office in the land was advertising, and the misuse of it-not by business but by the candidates themselves.

We can thank Steve Forbes for adding political advertising to the campaign menu in Iowa and New Hampshire. After enthusiastically blanketing Iowa with attack ads, he was vilified as the campaign's "bad boy" by rivals looking for anything that might be used against him. Lamar Alexander has since painted himself as a "clean" campaigner whose ads are somehow less harsh than those of his foes. Mr. Forbes contritely admitted his sins, and promised to sin no more, or at least to sin less often. And Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan, no kinder or gentler than ever, fought it out to the wire in New Hampshire with whatever they thought was necessary-including negative ads.

It's encouraging to see Iowa and New Hampshire voters complain about the campaign ads they were enduring. We hope it wasn't just that the ads were negative. Negative, or comparison, advertising can serve a valuable purpose but, as Mr. Forbes discovered, it has to be handled with care. We support suggestions candidates should appear in their attack ads; any charge a candidate, any candidate, is reluctatnt to have his or her voice or face associated with shouldn't be made.

The problem with political advertising is bigger than negative ads. It is campaign advertising that fails to give voters information-a reason to "buy" a particular candidate. Voters were saying the ads weren't helping them choose. Isn't that what effective advertising is about?

As they head for the next primary states, we hope the candidates and their ad people were listening in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The consumer's love/hate relationship with diet and dieting continues to keep marketers up nights. Frito-Lay's success with low-fat Baked Lay's chips is spawning a host of good-for-you snacks from the company. But, at the same time, McDonald's Corp. is withdrawing its fat-free McLean Deluxe burger from the market because of poor sales.

Mars stumbled earlier with reduced-calories Milky Way II candy bar, but it's coming back with a reformulated version renamed Milky Way Lite. Even Hershey Foods is going to market a low-fat candy bar line-Sweet Escapes.

Offering low-fat and low-calorie versions of foods considered treats or rewards is a chancy business, no matter what the nutritionists would have us believe. A lot of variables are at play. The McLean burger's taste didn't wow many folks who felt they "deserved a break today." And, of course, McDonald's didn't have the foresight to advertise McLean by showing three supermodels enjoying the product, as Baked Lay's is doing.

It also didn't help when the word got out that McLean's ingredients included a derivative of seaweed. Now Frito-Lay faces a similar fat-free hurdle. If the thought of seaweed helped sink sales of McLean, wait until this new government-required warning appears on Frito-Lay's planned new line of snacks made with Olean, the newly approved fat substitute:

"This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E and K have been added."

That'll make the fun-snackers want more, won't it?

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