Preparing this issue turned out to be the beginning of an extended and interesting journey. A paper submitted to the journal got me thinking about the challenges of accommodating advertising regulations in a global environment: brands are global these days, but regulation is necessarily local. I wondered how advertisers and agencies were coping with what seemed like a pretty steep challenge.
I began by contacting friends and colleagues in the US, who sent me ideas about who to talk to and what to include. The issue is clearly a hot one and must be addressed at least regionally. But it turns out that the world’s regulation system is being built as I write, very much in a state of becoming, and is modeled in part on the American system, and in part on the British system. So, I decided to do a series of issues, though they will appear spread out over probably eighteen months or so, looking at this situation from various regional perspectives.
The first perspective is the one from the United States, which is covered in this issue. We will follow, in a later issue, with an examination of the international situation with an interview with Stephan Loerke, president of the World Federation of Advertisers, but will have additional material on the UK and Western Europe. However, we will then look at the emergent situation in China in a later issue. All together, these installments will, I hope, allow readers to get a sense of the important moment that faces the world in terms of messaging and regulation.
We are fortunate to have, in this issue, a number of key illustrative texts to show what the American situation is, how it came to be, and how it works. This is key because the world system is developing, as I said, in part as a model on the American arrangement.
So, our issue begins with an original piece by Molly Niesen The Little Old Lady Has Teeth: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Advertising Industry, 1970-1973, that describes the formative moment in the history of the Federal Trade Commission that set the stage for the advertising regulation system in the United States. This moment, which occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, brought the FTC squarely into engagement with consumer protection issues as manifest in advertising. However, it also produced the scaffolding for the self-regulation system that followed.
The second piece is an interview with Lee Peeler, executive vice president of the National Advertising Self-Regulation, Council of Better Business Bureaus, which took place in New York last fall. Lee describes quite clearly and eloquently the history, reasoning, and structure behind the current system for self-regulation in the United States. He also points quite clearly to important differences between the American system and the emergent systems in the rest of the world—or the system in Europe.
Next are two cases from the Advertising Self-Regulation Council that we have been graciously granted permission to reproduce. It was my thought that, particularly for students, it would be helpful to see the level of detail that goes on behind a regulatory complaint, and, in particular, the role that research plays.
Finally, there is a short essay of my own, drawn from my dissertation research done at the National Museum of American History many years ago. The topic is the Campbell’s Soup marble case, the scandal that, by many accounts, kicked off the advertising regulation scenario of the 1970s. This piece is part of a new series called Classic Campaigns.
In 1990, I was working in the Modern Advertising History Archives, transcribing audiotaped interviews with the key people who worked on the classic campaigns of the 20th century. I remember how struck I was with the voices telling the story of the Campbell’s Soup marble scandal—from behind the scenes at the photoshoots. It was so remarkable to hear how surprised and shocked and embarrassed these people were to be charged with deception. Their voices trembled when they told about the care they had taken to be honest in their representations. I was amazed, since putting glass marbles in a bowl of soup seems like a pretty obvious act of deception. But, as I dug into the background of the circumstances, I came to feel that I understood how this happened. Without condoning it—as I don’t think these people would expect anyway—I felt eventually that there was an instructive story here about how and why such a thing came about. Especially in the digital era, the rapid rate of change in technology often undercuts our certainty about what constitutes honesty in representation. I think that is what happened to the Campbell and BBDO people. It’s an interesting, instructive, and very human story.
Linda M. Scott
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