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NEW YORK-The ad industry's self-regulatory program has a new fan: the U.S. Department of Transportation. The department has urged the airline industry to help itself and Uncle Sam by cooperating with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in settling disputes about ad claims.

The indirect endorsement by the Transportation Department occurred as advertising's self-regulatory body concluded what it termed its most successful year, even though NAD continues to struggle to gain attention and respect.

In fact, the Transportation Department's advisory was prompted by the stiffest challenge yet of NAD's authority: Continental Airlines' flat rejection of NAD's call to cooperate in resolving a dispute with Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Virgin took exception to a Continental print campaign by Wells Rich Greene BDDP that compared the price and value of its BusinessFirst service to similar services of competitors, but omitted a comparison with Virgin. Virgin argued it should have been included and alleged BusinessFirst is a replica of Virgin's Upper Class service.

Continental refused to participate in the NAD review on grounds that such disputes should be handled solely by the federal government, as stipulated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Morales vs. TWA. NAD referred the dispute to the Transportation Department, which substantiated Continental's advertising but chastised the airline for not taking part in the NAD review.

"Morales does not bar informal or voluntary resolution of advertising-based controversies," Samuel Podberesky, assistant general counsel for aviation enforcement proceedings, wrote in a letter to Continental. "Our resources are limited. The public would be better served if complaints against air carriers could be resolved informally and without involvement of federal enforcement personnel. Therefore, we again urge Continental to cooperate with NAD .*.*. in the event of any future controversies like this one."

Last year, NAD issued a record 87 decisions, up 34% from 1992. Nearly 25% were the result of NAD monitoring, up 12% from 1992. Despite this record, NAD remains unknown to-and is some cases, ignored by-many in the ad industry.

To rectify this problem, Elaine Reiss, senior VP-director, said NAD plans a vigorous public relations campaign in 1994, led by newly hired Public Relations Director Lynne Collins.

Last month, the National Advertising Review Board ruled in favor of Carnation Co./Nestle Food Co. TV spots from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Los Angeles, for Good Start and Follow-Up infant formulas. But it recommended Good Start print ads "be modified to eliminate the impression [that] Good Start is more easily digestible than other formulas .*.*. and to clarify that the impression of superior gentleness refers to the tolerance of the formula."

Also, the NARB asked Carnation to make clear in print ads that the "target population is those parents concerned about food reaction-risk children."

A competitor, Mead Johnson Nutritional Group of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., maker of EnFamil and ProSobee infant formulas, requested the NARB review after NAD concluded Carnation's key claims were substantiated.

The NARB, consisting of a peer review group of 70 advertising and public interest members, serves as a court of appeal for cases NAD fails to resolve.

NAD also substantiated ad claims, for the most part, involving the following challenges:

Ciba Consumer Pharmaceuticals (Efidac/24; Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor): NAD ruled Ciba substantiated ad claims for Efidac/24, "The first cold tablet for consistent 24-hour relief." Also: "Look, Sudafed drops off after 6 hours; Tavist-D after 12 ..." and "but just one Efidac gives consistent relief for 24 hours."

Hardee's Food Systems (fried chicken; Ogilvy & Mather, Glover Co., Lewis Advertising, in-house): Elements of Hardee's TV, radio, print and outdoor campaign comparing its fried chicken to KFC Original Recipe were challenged by KFC Corp. Print ads, outdoor and TV commercials, some with basketball star Karl Malone, stated Hardee's beat KFC Original Recipe in taste tests and also offered bigger pieces. NAD said "with the exception of one TV commercial ... the campaign executions ... were proper comparisons that adequately identified the target."

The exception was a quick-cut spot with Mr. Malone. Here, "a clear disclosure" of the targeted KFC product, Original Recipe, was necessary. NAD called for modification, and Hardee's agreed to do so "if it is rebroadcast."

Lever Bros. (Double Power Wisk; J. Walter Thompson USA): Procter & Gamble Co. challenged Lever TV spots that claimed new Double Power Wisk is "thicker" and "cleans better than Tide ... You need more Tide to wash as much as Wisk." A print ad and a free standing insert version claimed: "No other detergent gets out tough stains better."

P&G offered technical and consumer tests to back its challenge, and Lever challenged the interpretation of P&G's research. NAD, while accepting Lever's data, found the TV and FSI claims "too broad" and recommended modification. Lever said it would take into account NAD's concern and added it was pleased NAD found "Wisk's cleaning performance is superior to Tide's in a whole-wash cleaning situation" and that on "numerous tough stains," Wisk's stain removal performance "is superior to or at parity with Tide."

General Mills (Fiber One bran cereal; Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising): NAD said the company fully substantiated ad claims its monitors had questioned for Fiber One. General Mills claimed the cereal beat Kellogg's All-Bran in a taste test, is made from a unique wheat and corn bran blend, and stays "crunchy" in milk.

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