FTC Urges Ad Content Checks

The Federal Trade Commission is pressuring agencies, clients and the media to better scrutinize ads for fraudulent or deceptive content.
FTC Commissioner Sheila Anthony said that broadcasters, newspapers, magazines and agencies “can and should do a better job” of weeding out questionable ads. “We are concerned that too many deceptive ads are slipping through.”
Her comments were prompted by the poor response to FTC guidelines on spotting problem ads sent to 50 state press associations, whose members are media outlets. Only 17 of the groups informed their ranks, Anthony said at an American Advertising Federation meeting.
Anthony cited charges the FTC made last month against two manufacturers which bottled salt water and labeled it as a dietary supplement called “Vitamin O.” The ads were published in USA Today and on the Internet.
Noting there is no law prohibiting the FTC from suing media outlets for running deceptive ads, the commission has nonetheless been loathe to do so because of First Amendment concerns. Major TV networks and their affiliates routinely screen ads for dubious content, but the FTC is troubled by the plethora of radio stations, cable outlets and Web sites which have a more lax approach.
The FTC plans to spotlight the issue again this month at a National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Las Vegas.
AAF president Wally Snyder urged a marketplace solution. “They are encouraging the industry to take voluntary steps, but I am not too sure they have legal authority to require it,” Snyder said.
Added Hal Shoup, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, “There is always the concern about enforcement.”
The FTC has sued ad agencies and clients over deceptive ads. In 1998, Chrysler, Bozell, and Martin Advertising in Birmingham, Ala., settled charges that their auto ads omitted cost information or buried it in fine print.