Published on .

Bob Pitofsky believes in the power of advertising. He sees his job as the new head of the Federal Trade Commission as keeping the marketplace "clear and fair" so advertising can function as "the penetrating tool."

Of course, Mr. Pitofsky's remarks to a small group of ad people at the American Advertising Federation's Washington headquarters could have been uttered as soothing balm to lull them into a false sense of security. He did say he was re-examining appropriate remedies for wrong-doers, and he's the guy, back in the early '70s, who stuck Listerine mouthwash with corrective advertising for its longtime claims the stuff prevents colds and flu.

It was crusading attorney Wally Snyder, by the way, who argued the Listerine corrective advertising case before the commission when Bob Pitofsky was chief of the bureau of consumer protection. Wally is now the president of the AAF.

It's almost as if everyone is part of one big happy family.

But it wasn't always this way. Howard Bell, Wally's predecessor at the AAF, and I were reminiscing about the "old days" when ad agency guys would foam at the mouth over FTC excursions in limiting their ability to create forceful ads.

They were equally upset, much of the time, with my old boss Stan Cohen, our longtime Washington editor who would drive them up the wall by preaching in his weekly column that the industry should do what's in the best interest of consumers. Stan and the late Bart Cummings were often at each other's throats because they had radically different views of the public's best interests. Among my fondest memories was Stan and Bart, years later, discussing their differences like two old generals dissecting the tactics of ancient battles.

It's clear from Mr. Pitofsky's statements that the industry's self-regulatory apparatus has had tremendous benefit. I got the impression that because of the performance of the National Advertising Review Board, Mr. Pitofsky has the attitude that we're all in this regulatory process together.

I think it's unprecedented that Mr. Pitofsky would reach out to advertising executives for help in a consumer education program on financial fraud, which he feels has reached epidemic proportions. Wally Snyder, rightly so, was quick to pledge industry cooperation.

I also came away thinking that Mr. Pitofsky is secure enough in his job to try out different initiatives. He's not at all uptight when state attorneys general "carry the ball" on some advertising issues.

It's evident Bob Pitofsky is very much his own man and comfortable going his own way. He was "surprised at how independent the agency is. We've not been leaned on one way or the other."

The ad business has a wonderful opportunity in cooperating with the commission on consumer education programs. But don't trifle with Bob Pitofsky's cooperative nature, because I have a feeling he would not be shy about doing some leaning of his own.

Most Popular
In this article: