That might seem elementary now, but prior to Nader's Raiders, as
his troops were called, the burden of proof was on the FTC to show
that an ad claim was false and misleading. FTC lawyers had to call
expert witnesses and scientists to try to prove their case. After
the Nader petition, the FTC's job was made much less cumbersome,
and the commission got very aggressive in pursuing fraudulent
advertising. Wally Snyder, who was a lawyer at the FTC at the time,
later became president of the American Advertising Federation, and
is now executive director of the Institute for Advertising Ethics,
told me that the number of lawyers dedicated to ad cases almost
tripled from 12 to 30.
The shift in burden of proof also paved the way for the ad
industry's self-regulatory mechanism, the National Advertising
Review Council. The industry could never have afforded to handle ad
cases if it had to prove a claim was false. But under the new
rules, the ad review board would simply ask for substantiation.
Both Stan Cohen, our longtime Washington editor, and Howard
Bell, who founded the NARC, agreed that it was not enough for the
advertising industry to fight government intrusion. It also should
admit that there were valid issues concerning gimmicky and
misleading ads that advertisers had to confront.
At the same time, Stan said a new generation of ad leaders were
coming to the conclusion that "they didn't want to go back to the
jungle. They didn't want to spend their lives fighting with the
government. That's not what they're in business for."
So the time was right for self-regulation. Before becoming
president of the newly merged Advertising Federation of America and
the Advertising Association of the West, Howard headed the National
Association of Broadcasters' Code Authority, the self-regulatory
body for broadcasting. When the two ad groups merged in 1968,
Howard said, they had "no money and no major industry support." The
first thing he did was to move the headquarters from New York to
Washington to better deal with the government's growing involvement
Howard told me that establishing the ad review board in 1971
with the 4A's, the Association of National Advertisers, and the
Council of Better Business Bureaus was not exactly a slam dunk.
Major companies at the time didn't want to make the decisions
public or turn advertisers that didn't comply over to the FTC
because they "didn't want to rock the boat or admit that we had a
problem or hold members up to public ridicule," Howard said. But he
worked with Stan to build favorable momentum for self-regulation,
and we printed some of the cases to show the process was for
Those were troubling times for advertising. After President
Kennedy, in a speech in Ohio, first used the words "consumer
protection" and followed up by naming Esther Peterson as the first
consumer adviser to the White House, consumer protection took off
as a government activity in the following decade. So there was a
lot of hostility.
"If there hadn't of been a firestorm against the industry, ad
people would have said we don't need it, and some did anyway. But
Stan's writing contributed a lot to building support," recalled
Howard, who still has his hand in the game after all these years as
the current chairman of National Advertising Review Board.