At this year’s National Advertising Division (NAD) annual conference in New York City held on September 29-30, the hot news was old news—speakers from NAD, FTC and various stakeholders emphasized a back-to-basics focus.
For instance, Crowell & Moring’s Chris Cole moderated a panel on product demonstrations. The panel discussed recent NAD decisions, but these recent decisions revolved around the fundamental principles that product demonstrations must accurately reflect how the advertised product works, and must be adequately substantiated.
Even panels on “newer” advertising forms, like native advertising, came back to the concept that consumers should be provided enough information to know who is the author or promoter behind an “info-tisement,” so that they can weigh the information accordingly. Again, the themes of reasonable consumer expectations, accurate information, and adequate support reigned supreme.
In something of a contrast to the NAD presentations, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) conference on October 1, 2014 was heavily focused on all things COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). That said, much of the discussion centered upon how to ensure that the same protections for children’s personal information currently used for websites and more established modes of customer communication will be extended to mobile applications and devices. The challenge was not necessarily a new legal concept, but rather on how to apply a current legal concept to emerging technologies.
In CARU’s Self-Regulatory round-up, mixed in with COPPA and data security examples was a classic demonstration case, involving a toy which could sail high into the air and glow brightly in a commercial, but whose performance in real life was not nearly as dramatic. Again, the message was a fundamental one—advertiser demonstrations should not suggest performance capabilities untethered from what the real product may do. The reasonable expectations of the audience, especially an audience of children, needs to be considered when touting product performance, in demonstrations or otherwise.
Another theme that emerged at the NAD and CARU conferences was sensitivity to the portrayal of food and beverages, particularly snack food and alcoholic beverages. Advertisers were urged not to condone abusive consumption, particularly in messaging aimed at the young or underaged. The newest FTC Commissioner, Terrell McSweeney, spoke at the CARU event, and she echoed an intention to focus on children’s health as one of her primary goals as commissioner (along with an emphasis on children’s data security).
The takeaway for advertisers this year: while tackling new technologies and modes of advertising, don’t lose sight of the basic principles of accuracy, reasonable consumer expectations and substantiation. And if you are advertising food products or alcoholic beverages, anticipate continued scrutiny in the future, especially of any messaging which may be seen as targeting children or underage consumers.