Humor. Heard of It?
Last Month a KFC ad, showing call center workers singing with their mouths full to promote KFC's Zinger Crunch Salad, which ran in England garnered a record 1,671 complaints to the country's Advertising Standards Authority because many felt it would cause bad manners among children. At the time we said that was ridiculous and wondered if the human race was losing its sense of humor. Today, the ASA has agreed with us stating it did not agree with those that lodged complaints and that the ad was unlikely to cause bad manners. Parents teach manners. Commercials don't. There's a difference.
In a welcome sign of common sense and support for unbiased journalism, American Business Media and with clear reference to the recent negative editorial policies issued by Morgan Stanley and BP, issued a press release Wednesday urging member companies and 4,500 business to business publishers to reject any attempts by marketers to influence journalism with threatening policies. In the release, ABM President and CEO Gordon T. Hughes said, "Overtures or threats made by advertisers to pull ads with intent to steer content, or advertiser requests to review content prior to publication, undermine universal journalistic ethical standards."
Kudos. Bravo. Thank you, Gordon.
Citing video news releases, product placement and interactive television aimed at children, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has asked the FCC to expand its investigation into product placement disclosure and strengthen guidelines. As reported in As Age, Adelstein told the Media Institute, "People out there are frustrated by what they see as fake news and relentless marketing. The use of covert commercial pitches is penetrating deeper and deeper into our media."
While our normal pithiness calls for us to poke fun at government agencies creating rules that assume people are stupid and can't figure things out for themselves, we, believe it or not, feel some control is warranted. Advertising, because of people's increased ability to ignore it, is getting desperate. very desperate. A roadblock buy once meant buying every spot on every network during a single time period or plastering posters over an entire subway station. It now means, literally, creating an advertising barrier so intense, so pervasive one would have to leave the solar system to avoid an ad. It's reached the point on insanity as marketers, who are not entirely at fault since they are faced with intense media fragmentation and consumer control over media, grasp for any and all possible means to get their message in front of potential customers.
While inviting the government into things is not always the best solution, something, anything is needed to guide the advertising beast as it relentlessly seeks eyeballs with cash.
While Commercial Alert's Gary Ruskin says, "Good luck," cell phone providers have adopted a set of guidelines, Consumer Best Practices Guidelines for Cross-Carrier Mobile Content Services, which is intended to place limits on marketer's use of the cell phone as an advertising medium. The guidelines call for double opt-in to promotions, how people are charged for air time and wording people can use to opt in or out of promotions. Even as the guidelines are adopted by all major U.S cell phone companies, Ruskin believes cell advertising will, none the less, proliferate and cause a backlash similar to those that have occurred in Europe where the medium is more established. Ruskin is particularly concerned over the guideline's allowance of opt-in list sale to third parties.
Write Nice Things Or Else
It seems BP (more accurately BP's agency MindShare who crafted BP's stringent "zero-tolerance policy") and Morgan Stanley have everybody's panties in a bunch over their recently publicized ad policies stipulating their right to pull ad schedules based on disagreeable editorial content. Ad Age has skewered the announcements, writing, "Shame on BP. And shame on Morgan Stanley and General Motors and any other advertisers involved in assaults on editorial integrity and independence. By wielding their ad budgets as weapons to beat down newsrooms, these companies threaten the bond that media properties have with their audiences, the very thing that gives media their value to advertisers to begin with."
We're none too pleased either. But, for all the reaction these announcements have received, there's nothing all that new. Policies such as these have been around forever. They've just never brazenly been made public. And that's the issue.
Upon seeing a new Dialog Communications Inc ad campaign running in Western Kentucky claiming they take the BS out of phone service, Bell South has issued a cease and desist order.To avoid the cost of litigation, Dialog has decided not to contest the order, and has begun pulling the advertising.
The newspaper, TV, direct mail and outdoor campaign, created by advertising agency BOONE/OAKLEY, Charlotte, features the large headline. "ell outh," and below that, "We take the BS out of phone service. Dialog Telecommunications." It goes on to state that Dialog phone service has "no hidden fees, no extra charges, no BS."
Advertising industry recruitment and career firm TalentZoo has filed suit against WorkZoo for trademark infringement. Both are job site. While TalentZoo focuses specifically on the advertising industry, WorkZoo covers many industries. The suit centers around the word, "Zoo." TalentZoo claims it is the only and first recruitment and job search firm to have incorporated the word into its trademark.
Gary Ruskin's Commercial Alert cause group has, petitioned (pdf) the USDA to better enforce its prohibition on the sale of junk food, described by the USDA as "foods of minimal nutritional value," in school cafeterias. The USDA has admitted to not knowing whether or not school are complying with the guidelines stating in a report last month, "it is unclear to what extent federal and state regulations [against the sale of foods of minimum nutritional value] are enforced at the local level."
"We're asking the USDA to side with parents who want their kids to grow up healthy, not with the junk food companies that want to stuff our children with sugar and caffeine," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert. "The USDA should strengthen existing rules against the sale of junk food in school – before the childhood obesity epidemic gets any worse."
The public seems to agree with the USDA guidelines according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll in which 83 percent of Americans believe school need to do a better job limiting access to junk food.
Writing on his blog, ANA Marketing Musings, ANA CEO and President Bob Liodice takes issue with recent political attempts to blame advertisers for society's ills, namely, childhood obesity. Liodice thinks government regulation of advertising would be bad. Not that it really supports the point, but Liodice lists a litany of great things the ad industry has done for society, in general, from Ad Council work to Partnership for a Drug Free America to the self-regulatory work of the Children's Advertising Review Unit.
While forcing crap down people's throats via advertising might not be a good thing, perhaps advertising isn't completely to blame. If there was no crap to force in the first place, there'd be no crap pushed to the public via advertising. In a capitalistic society, companies will do whatever is best for their financial bottom line - even if it makes American's bottom line obese.
There may be no solution to this problem but Liodice's commentary brings to light to notion of "don't shoot the messenger." While advertising may be a much easier and more visible target to complain about, if 750 calorie mega-burgers weren't manufactured in the first place, there's be no ad selling that crap. Perhaps the gun barrel needs to be aimed elsewhere.