Big Tobacco to Big Food: Listen Up and Learn

ANA Conference Panelists Help Marketers Buttress Defenses for Litigious 2007

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NEW YORK ( -- Want to enter that Doritos competition or see the brand's latest ads? Easy-just type in, verify that you're over 21 ...

Yes, really. It might seem far-fetched to think a marketer would not be allowed to expose a teenager to a promotion for a bag of chips, but the food industry is preparing for just such extremes. Underscoring how serious the fight against food marketers has become, the ANA last week drafted a battle-scarred veteran from the tobacco wars to teach them what he's learned in the trenches.

Guy M. Blynn, VP-deputy general counsel at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which he called "the No. 1 commercial pariah in America," conducted a panel-cum-marketing-boot-camp with Geoffrey K. Beach, partner at law firm Jones Day, dubbed "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire" at ANA's Law & Business Affairs Conference.

The pair gave tips on staying out of court, such as using permission-based direct marketing; explained how RJR makes it hard for consumers to opt in and easy to opt out; and outlined the company's age-verification process, which is multi-tiered and backed up by either face-to-face proof or third-party verification.

Mr. Beach suggested several approaches to writing and keeping documents that may help marketers in case of a lawsuit. He reminded the audience that documents will be around for a long time, so "mean what you say and say what you mean." He also stressed that "context is key": Don't let a quote from a brainstorming session stand on its own-add a paragraph of context explaining that it was just an exchange of ideas.

Paranoia? Not if you consider it's more than food marketers under attack. "2007 will be a year of focus on kids' advertising," said John Feldman, partner at law firm Reed Smith, who appeared on the panel "Overweight and Overwrought: Children's Advertising in the Crosshairs." Right now, he said, the scrutiny is on food marketers, but a number of other self-regulated categories could be next on the docket. "Politically," he said, "what gets traction better than kids?"
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