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Alphabet Soup Part II: Who’s Who in Advertising Self-Regulation

In Part I of Alphabet Soup, I outlined the online advertising self-regulatory framework.

In Part II, I focus on the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (“ASRC”), administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and its mission of providing guidance and standards for truth and accuracy in advertising for national advertisers. Much like the Federal Trade Commission, the ASRC is concerned with brands being truthful and not deceptive and providing a set of rules that apply to all types of advertisers across all types of industries and media.

The ASRC, is comprised of four units:

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”):               This Unit sets policies and conducts content review for ads targeted to children (and works in conjunction with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, regulated by the FTC);

The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (“ESRP”):              This Unit addresses issues related to direct-response advertising, those pesky ads that use toll free numbers or websites you have to access to make a purchase;

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (“NAD”):        This is the Unit that deals with most all other kinds of media ads;

And finally, the National Advertising Review Board (“NARB”), which handles appeals from decisions rendered by the other Units.

Claims for false or deceptive advertising can be brought to the ASRC (or the applicable unit within the ASRC) which has the right (but not the obligation) to refer such cases up to the appropriate governmental regulatory authority. Rather than make claims through the FTC, which can be expensive for both sides, claims by consumers or claims by a brand against a competitor are often resolved by the NAD investigating and then issuing guidance on how to fix the faulty ad.  In fact, the NAD’s decisions regarding advertising are the largest body of decisions in the U.S. and cover a wide range of industries. Some of the most recent cases include:

NAD Finds Kraft Heinz’s Claim, “Upgrade Your Mayonnaise” on Displays is Puffery When Used to Attract Attention to its Own Product But Not in Comparative Setting

NAD Recommends T-Mobile Discontinue its “100%” Coverage Claim and Claim that It Covers More of Certain Cities than AT&T

Advertising Claims About Insulin Sensitivity, Other Health Benefits of AstraGin Dietary Supplement Permanently Discontinued Following NAD Inquiry.

Miller Lite Can Claim “More Taste” than Bud Light and Michelob Ultra, Says NAD; Recommends Changes To Its “Know Your Beer” Campaign.

Brand integrity isn’t just producing a great product and campaign, it requires constant monitoring of how that brand is used (an unauthorized mention, a competitor unfairly using a proprietary mark etc…) and how it’s perceived by consumers (deceptive or unsubstantiated ads).  These groups provide a way to follow high advertising standards and also promote consumer trust and protection.


Addie Johnson