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The american association of Advertising Agencies has turned down a petition asking it to develop a voluntary code for cigarette advertising. The association's refusal is a practical response, and we can understand its position.

"There is nothing wrong with a voluntary code," explained Four A's Vice Chairman Ralph Rydholm, CEO of Euro RSCG Tatham, "but we feel we should not be in the business of providing guidelines for the [tobacco] industry's business." But Four A's reluctance to get involved need not be the end of the matter for agency people with concerns about tobacco advertising.

Turned down by the Four A's, Columbus, Ohio, adman David S. Milenthal, chairman of HMS Partners, said he now intends to form an independent group of agency professionals to build support for "voluntary" tobacco ad principles. And that, too, is well and good. Mr. Milenthal, however, has linked his new group with the Washington-based National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. The center's president, veteran PR executive William D. Novelli, strongly endorses "comprehensive" government regulation of tobacco marketing such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration seeks to impose (see Letters to the Editor).

We support the ad industry's major associations in demanding rigorous First Amendment court review of the FDA's bid to control tobacco promotion. Their stance has never meant all adpeople defend tobacco use or every aspect of how tobacco is promoted. And we are certain there are adpeople with ideas for curbing underage smoking that don't involve supressing the right to truthfully advertise a legal product. So we appreciate Mr. Milenthal's bid to bring these ideas out.

What adpeople concerned about tobacco have to say about curbing troublesome creative approaches that lend glamor to smoking, or about the effectiveness of well-crafted anti-smoking ad campaigns, could be helpful-and not just to the White House as it explores possible compromises with the tobacco industry. Another beneficiary could be the nation's media companies, where executives have day-to-day respsonsibility for passing on the suitability of the tobacco ads they accept.

It will be "a battle of the amateurs," said BBDO Worldwide's Phil Dusenberry, commenting on the fact that neither major presidential candidate is using a traditional ad agency this year. Adman Hal Riney calls political consultants who write advertising "total amateurs."

Both men, veterans of past Republican campaigns, thus provide more fuel to fire the animosity of political consultants. The consultants have long been at odds with advertising practitioners-especially with those who say political advertising gives all advertising a bad name.

Consultants feel they whip out pretty good advertising and they make no apologies for the negative ones that seem to turn off voters. Unlike product advertising, they say, political campaigning is a one-shot, all-or-nothing deal; turning voters against the other guy often works.

Counters Mr. Riney: "Can you imagine running all your advertising for Saturn on how awful a Honda is? . . . [Bob] Dole needs to let people know what he's going to do for them and make them feel good rather than feel bad about Clinton."

At least in this presidential race, Madison Ave. won't have to take the blame for advertising excesses by the candidates. Unlike product ad campaigns, though, no matter how bad the political consultants are in creating ads for national and local candidates, half of them will win.

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