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Trim the Marketing Fat, says FTC's Majoras

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras has some New Years Resolutions for the industry, starting with "trimming the fat in marketing to kids." She also wants advertisers and broadcasters to do a better job of policing the airwaves for false diet claims, and says the commission is preparing a report on marketing practices to kids.  

Citing the problem of childhood obesity, she advised attendees at an Association of National Advertisers meeting in New York that she was not interested in assigning blame for the problem.

"All segments of society," she said, including "government, schools, parents, doctors, food companies, and the media need to take a hard look at what we can do to help improve our children's health."

The FTC, in concert with Health and Human Services, has asked marketers to boost industry self-regulation. The industry responded with a voluntary effort, the Council of Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative , to increase self-regulation of kids ads and encourage healthier lifestyles and diets.

Majoras praised those "positive initial steps," but added that "more remains to be done if we expect to have a real impact on the problem."

That includes more companies signing on to the industry pledge to change their marketing practices for ads targeted to kids under 12. It also includes doing than the "minimum" pledged. "Let that be one of your resolutions for the new year," she said.

She also praised the changes to the BBB's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) to address the "blurring" of the lines between advertising and editorial.

Majoras said she did not agree with critics who have called the industry actions "wholly insufficient," but she re-emphasized that they were a beginning, not an end, and that food marketers needed to do more to create and promote healthier food and drink options.

She praised the use of Nickelodeon's SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer to sell carrots and spinach, and Disney characters pushing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Saying the industry needed to step up self-regulation efforts, she pointed to the Red Flag initiative on deceptive weight-loss claims

"My predecessor, Chairman Muris, and former Commissioner Leary met with members of the media and asked that they 'do the right thing' and refuse to run advertisements that contain "Red Flag" claims," she said. A number, though not all, media responded she said. Red Flagged ads decreased, but those targeting the Hispanic population did not, and the FTC sent out warning letters last September to 77 media outlets. " Clearly, this is a segment of the advertising industry where much greater efforts are required," she said.

Majoras said that staffers have begun collecting information from industry for the food marketing report it is required to conduct per its 2006 appropriation. The report will include a study of TV and radio advertising, Internet marketing and product placement.

She said that although the comment period on the report ended Dec. 21, there will be additional opportunity to comment beginning in the spring.