Commentary

Truth In Advertising: Who You Gonna Call?

While the debate rages over whether ad blockers and ad zappers can be discouraged by better-targeted ads, less offensive ad units or better creative, is anyone paying attention to how consumers feel about deceptive advertising (or ad practices)? Pretty sure the industry's ranking on the Gallup Work and Education poll -- down there with cars salesmen and politicians -- is largely driven by bad advertiser choices.


As part of the industry, do you know who you gonna call about ads that you think are deceptive? In the U.K., there's just one place to turn, in the U.S. many -- some of them fraught with bureaucracy.

Since 1954, advertising in the U.K. has been "regulated" by codes set by (what is known today as) The Advertising Standards Authority, the U.K.’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. Its mission "includes acting on complaints and proactively checking the media to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements. The ASA Council is the jury that decides whether advertisements have breached the Advertising Codes."

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ASA recently dinged BuzzFeed for not sufficiently labeling a "native" listicle as sponsored. Two weeks ago, the ASA reprimanded The Telegraph for failing to adequately label an online advertorial for Michelin tires.

In the U.S., the big dog on the block is the Federal Trade Commission, which tries to assure that "claims in advertisements must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based." In August, the FTC ordered an Instagram post featuring Kim Kardashian enthusiastically promoting a morning sickness treatment to be taken down for breaking advertising laws. The FTC has lengthy guidelines on native advertising, including 17 examples of how it has been done wrong.

In addition to federal laws, each state has its own unfair competition laws to prohibit false and misleading advertising, where the journey generally starts with the state Attorney General.

Our ownInteractive Advertising Bureau features a Code of Conduct for its members and a process to get them to "voluntarily" resolve infractions. But if they don't, the violator could be bounced from the IAB and referred to -- wait for it -- the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- whose Advertising Self-Regulatory Council "monitors advertising in all media, including social media, to assure that advertising claims are truthful, accurate and not misleading." Note that process includes a far amount of self-regulation.

The CBBB's Advertising Self-Regulatory Council board of directors is said to be comprised of the "top leadership" of not only the IAB, but the American Advertising Federation, American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers, Direct Marketing Association, and the Electronic Retailing Association. With all of that throw-weight, you would think there's not a chance that deceptive ads would appear in any U.S. media -- and you would be wrong. Moreover, if you want access to the CBBB's archives to do a little research or learn a little more, the annual subscription cost is just under $7,000.  

Finally, you might want to drop in on Truth in Advertising, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is "to be the go-to online resource dedicated to empowering consumers to protect themselves and one another against false advertising and deceptive marketing." It has a nice round-up of Deceptive Marketing 101 and a fun Wall of Shame.

Last year, TINA.org filed four new complaints with the FTC and state attorneys general concerning deceptive marketing practices, three oppositions to unfair false advertising settlements in federal court, and a brief in the Fifth Circuit urging the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision regarding pyramid schemes. TINA.org also participated in an FTC federal court case against a pyramid scheme.

So in sum, the fate of truth in advertising in this country rests largely in the hands of the FTC and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. I am thinking the Brits have a better, more efficient and effective one-stop system.

1 comment about "Truth In Advertising: Who You Gonna Call?".
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  1. Andrew Susman from Emoto, January 17, 2016 at 8:56 p.m.

    No one can serve two masters.

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