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The advertising industry is taking time out this month to celebrate the singular accomplishment 25 years ago of a group of advertising men and women who gambled that self-regulation would work in the rough-and-tumble world of national advertising.

And how that gamble has suceeded! Their creation, the National Advertising Review Board/National Advertising Division self-regulation system, in its quarter century of service has earned the respect of major advertisers, key government regulators and consumer groups.

Self-regulation brought together the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers in a partnership with the national Council of Better Business Bureaus. With their backing, the BBB organization created the National Advertising Division (and later a special Children's Advertising Review Unit) to investigate complaints about national ad claims. Top managers from ad agencies and advertisers agreed to serve on a new National Advertising Review Board, where they would judge other advertisers' work in cases appealed from the NAD. And NARB invited "public" members-not connected to advertising-to serve as voting members of its panels.

What other industry 25 years ago had opened its work to such searching peer review and self-criticism? And who else can claim such success? In more than 3,000 cases, and 91 appeals to the NARB, advertisers voluntarily submitted to the NARB/NAD process-and 97% have complied with its findings.

For a new generation of ad people, we retell the NARB/NAD story in a special anniversary tribute in this issue. Twenty-five years ago, self-regulation rescued advertising from a credibility crisis. It can do the same for the new controversies facing the industry today if the industry displays the courage and foresight it did in 1971.

Say what you will about the lackluster presidential election, the lack of Wheaties' stars from the Atlanta Olympics, the ho-hum of the fall TV season, still it's been a happy, healthy year for advertising, marketing and media businesses.

There's good news almost everywhere you look. In the Veronis, Suhler & Associates report released last week, the investment bankers say advertising is growing faster than the overall economy again (and they predict it will do so through 2000) while the entire communcations industry, including advertising, has "fully recovered" from the recession of the early 1990s.

Last issue we noted on Page 1 the explosive double-digit growth of ad pages this year in national newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Magazine publishers and TV broadcasters are having a strong year. And in our annual salary survey this week, you can see that prosperity rippling through the industry, with raises for ad agency staff up at least a percentage point, to an average 6% to 8%.

What's behind this '96 boost? The usual quadrennial events didn't hurt, but weren't really the prime factors. The more obvious engine can be found in the stock pages every day: The stock market's on fire, confidence is high, and the resurgent brand-builders are spending in force.

Just how strong business really is will be tested when the market makes its inevitable "correction." At the moment, all signs point to a business climate that's genuinely healthy. And that's enough to give thanks for right now; next year will test everybody all over again.

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