FTC Chairman Wants Marketers to Shape up

But Applauds Self-Regulation in Advertising to Kids in Diet-Themed ANA Keynote

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras today offered marketers advice in the form of New Year's resolutions at the Association of National Advertisers's Advertising Law and Business Affairs Conference.
FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras wants marketers to 'take the empty calories' out of advertising.
FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras wants marketers to 'take the empty calories' out of advertising. Credit: AP

"Advertising is a critical part of our consumer-centric competition-based economic system," she said in her keynote, "so much so that false or misleading advertising which distorts the system can't be tolerated."

Trim the fat
She began by asking advertisers to "trim the fat in marketing to kids." While Ms. Majoras is not interested in placing blame for rising childhood obesity rates, she is interested in action. She said she is pleased so far with the self-regulatory actions by marketers to shift the focus of advertising to children under the age of 12 to encourage healthier eating habits.

"These industry initiatives are commendable," she said, "and my hope is that they will continue to prompt competition among the food marketers and entertainment companies to use their resources to develop healthier alternatives and to use their creativity to promote effectively those healthier foods to children and youths."

Just as the FTC will review its guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising, Ms. Majoras also asked that advertisers "take the empty calories -- that is, unsupported claims -- out of advertising." She cautioned advertisers that it is bad enough when they make direct claims that could be misleading. But to piggyback on others' false claims is no better.

Don't succumb to temptation
Next she asked that the attendees not "succumb to the temptation to spy on consumers." She said the FTC firmly believes a consumer's computer belongs to him or her and not the software distributor who may download its program, surreptitiously or not, on to that computer. Those programs, she said, should be easily uninstalled by consumers.

She also attacked a technique many advertisers hold dear as their legal back-up. "Buried or fine-print disclosures do not work on computers just as they've never worked in more traditional areas of commerce," she said. In asking marketers to "be vigilant," she said, "[w]e need to cultivate a culture of security and a respect for consumer privacy."

Ms. Majoras rounded out her keynote by suggesting that marketers "enhance the exercise machine of self-regulation." Her counterparts in other countries often ask Ms. Majoras how the FTC can trust businesses to eliminate deceptive marketing. "It is critical that we continue to prove these people wrong. ... It is appropriate that the industry assumes a share of the responsibility for insuring truthful, substantiated claims for their products."
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