Online privacy and childhood obesity not only made headlines last year, they also became big issues for advertisers in Washington. To find out what lawmakers and regulators might have in store for advertisers this year, Adweek spoke with Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers; and his man in Washington, Dan Jaffe, evp, about whether advertisers can expect another active year in Washington.
Adweek: What did you accomplish last year?
Jaffe: The federal government's proposed guidelines for advertising food to children was resolved at the end of the year with Congress requiring the government to follow [President Obama's] executive order and do a cost-benefit analysis first. Another big issue was the privacy question. A lot of legislation was introduced in Congress and the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Commerce issued interim reports. Since then, hundreds of marketers doing behavioral advertising use a privacy icon leading consumers to all privacy notices. It's rapidly growing. The FTC recently applauded the effort. And then there is the whole debate about Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the plan to add hundreds of top-level domains to the Internet.
Will it be more of the same this year?
Jaffe: This year will be impacted by presidential elections, so it will be one of the harder years to predict what is going to happen. Also, Congress has had a great deal of difficulty dealing with anything. Nothing is totally clear, but we know advertising will be in the mix. Privacy will continue to be front and center. I don't know about the food marketing issue.
What has been driving the increased activity on advertising policy and regulation?
Liodice: There had been a fundamental concern at the macro level that advertisers had not been acting responsibly. It started with food and childhood obesity issues and continued with online behavioral advertising. Both those merited increased scrutiny. And in both situations, they've been actively addressed to the satisfaction by legislators and the public policy community through self-regulation.
Is self-regulation enough to appease Washington? How do you demonstrate to the government that self-regulation is working?
Liodice: The beauty of self-regulation is that the advertisers are active participants. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative requires a major commitment in a written pledge. In privacy, advertisers must adopt core principles and there is an ongoing monitoring process. When advertisers fail to conform, the self-regulatory bodies identify and ask for changes.
How do you make sure legislators don't take advertising for granted?
Jaffe: For a number of years, we've conducted a study analyzing the impact of advertising on jobs and economy in the US. It's a strong tool to use because it's broken down by congressional district and state. It's one of the reasons we were able to effectively respond to concerns about ad tax proposals.
What should advertisers keep on their radar this year?
Jaffe: There's nothing specifically lurking in the background. I am certain there will be reintroduction of legislation and new legislation on privacy and on information security issues. The FTC will make a final determination in children's online privacy. There will be people pushing forward in the food advertising issue because of obesity. We know Congress will be forced to look at taxes and debt because they're forced to, but we don't know what else might be dragged into it.
Any predictions about Congress passing any legislation that might affect advertisers?
Jaffe: As it gets closer to the elections, lawmakers start to become concerned that they haven't been producing, so they start looking for coming ground on issues. I wouldn't count Congress out [on privacy].
Liodice: One of the areas that always represents a concern is what legislators do about budget laws. We need to monitor for changes in tax practices to make sure advertisers aren't singled out as levers to close budget gaps and create revenue sources. It's been an ongoing concern for decades. We haven't heard any rumblings, but we'll keep our eye on it.