Editorial: A good idea from Nader

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Ralph Nader wants to set up an index to flag marketers that go too far in advertising intrusion. We say: Go for it, Ralph. The marketplace benefits from hearing the crusading activist's ideas. But for his Web-based index to have credibility, Mr. Nader will need to shine the light on specific, egregious examples of marketing. Blanket indictments of industries or tactics would be noise that doesn't get heard.

We agree with Mr. Nader on one key point: Some marketing and advertising goes too far. The marketing business-and good marketers-get a black eye when bad marketers cross the line.

Mr. Nader, in an interview in last week's Advertising Age, said he'd use the index to punish marketers that consistently go overboard with tactics such as product placement in movies and TV shows that's not clearly identified or with marketing inside schools.

Product placement and school marketing are legitimate and appropriate marketing programs when done openly and fairly. If something smells bad-if it seems deceptive or underhanded-then it probably doesn't pass the test.

There is a risk and cost for doing the wrong thing: Consumers may hold it against a company or brand. Mr. Nader intends to do his part to make consumers aware of companies on his hit list.

There is an opportunity to do the right thing. Marketers can break through the clutter by trying a different in-invitation, not intrusion. The invitation can be a formal opt-in by a consumer or, more informal; Coca-Cola's red sofa is a signature part of Fox's "American Idol," and we bet most viewers are happy to allow the brand into their homes because Coke helps pay for a show they enjoy.

We hope Mr. Nader proceeds with his index; the more voices in this debate, the better. One request, Mr. Nader: Include an honor roll of companies that consistently do a good job of staying within the bounds. Even the nadir index should have its high points.

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