'Trim the Fat in Marketing to Kids,' FTC Chair Tells ANA

24 January 2007

NEW YORK: US marketers were presented with a combination of carrot and stick- primarily the latter - by Federal Trade Commission chairman Deborah Platt Majoras at the Association of National Advertisers' Advertising Law and Business Affairs Conference in New York this week.

Urged Majoras in her keynote speech: "Trim the fat in marketing to kids." She stressed that while she is not interested in placing blame for rising childhood obesity rates, she is interested in action.

She declared herself pleased by marketers' self-regulatory actions to shift the focus of ads targeting children under the age of twelve to encourage healthier eating habits. "These industry initiatives are commendable," Majoras said.

"My hope is that they will continue to prompt competition among the food marketers and entertainment companies to use their resources to develop healthier alternatives and to use their creativity to promote effectively those healthier foods to children and youths."

The FTC chairman also advised her audience to "take the empty calories" out of advertising, describing the latter as "a critical part of our consumer-centric competition-based economic system . . . so much so that false or misleading advertising which distorts the system can't be tolerated.

She told marketers it was bad enough to make direct claims that could be misleading. But to piggyback on others' false claims is no better.

Majoras then directed her steely gaze online, telling advertisers they should not "succumb to the temptation to spy on consumers."

The FTC, she said, "firmly believes a consumer's computer belongs to him or her and not the software distributor who may download its program, surreptitiously or not, on to that computer." Such spyware should be easily uninstallable by consumers.

Ending as she began, in exhortation mode, Majoras urged her audience to "enhance the exercise-machine of self-regulation." She referred to discussions with her regulatory counterparts in other nations who challenged the efficacy of US self-regulation.

"It is critical that we continue to prove these people wrong ... It is appropriate that the industry assumes a share of the responsibility for insuring truthful, substantiated claims for their products."

Data sourced from AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff