NARC Nixed; Name Changed to Advertising Self-Regulatory Council

Adland's Self-Policing Unit Opts for Clear Name

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Do you know what NARC is and what it does?

Don't feel bad if the answer is no. Despite having been around for 40 years, the National Advertising Review Council faces a perennial lack of awareness from both inside the Beltway and on Madison Avenue. In a bid to be unambiguous about its purpose, the organization has renamed itself the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council.

Even though it is all about the advertising industry, the council has somehow largely failed to market itself effectively.

"It is a great irony that we have not been better at making sure people understand what we do," said Lee Peeler, president-CEO or ASRC. "By clarifying our mission and our role, we believe it will be easier to demonstrate to the industry where these opportunities lie."

"I always felt that NARC was an unfortunate acronym," said Nancy Hill, president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and an ASRC board member. "It has the connotation of people undercover, spying on drug dealers—and that 's not at all what we do," she joked.

The industry's need to self-regulate is crucial when Congress has expressed interest in everything from online privacy to childhood obesity—areas in which the ASRC and its subgroups have been active.

"We cannot just hide and hope the benefits of self-regulation are understood within the industry," said Bob Liodice, president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers and ASRC board director. "The reality is that many in the marketing ecosystem" have not grasped it, he said.

Eric Mower, chairman-CEO of Eric Mower & Associates and ASRC board chair, said that a "critically important" part of the rebranding will be a more consistent marketing and communications effort.

One of the challenges is keeping straight which groups are involved, said Mr. Mower, referring to the "alphabet soup" that falls under the ASRC umbrella, including CARU (Children's Advertising Review Unit), NAD (National Advertising Division), and ERSP (Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program).

Also confusing is how the Council of Better Business Bureaus relates to the ASRC. (The latter is the policy-setting body of the self-regulation system; the former administers the system and provides the ASRC with part of its funding).

Further complicating matters is that self-regulation grew beyond its original intent. When it was founded in 1971, NARC's aim was to review advertising for truth and accuracy, and to provide guidance to the industry. But its mission has expanded over time (see the alphabet soup above).

Digital, for example, "changes the relationship between producers, intermediaries—such as agencies—and consumers," said Randy Rothenberg, president-CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and ASRC board member. "And that changing relationship ... requires increased vigilance. It's something we never had to deal with before."

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