FTC warns media on ads

Commission takes aim at infomercials

Broadcasters and cablers beware: Federal Trade Commission topper Deborah Platt Majoras has threatened media companies with bad publicity if they’re even suspected of airing deceptive advertising.

In a speech last week to the Electronic Retailers Assn., Majoras said false or misleading claims in informercials are increasing and cautioned media companies against thinking the FTC will only go after advertisers.

“We are planning to identify those media companies that disseminate allegedly false ads,” Majoras said. “We will include the names of these companies in our press releases announcing an FTC action challenging those claims.”

Majoras lauded the industry for largely successful self-regulation on deceptive ads, but said there’s room for improvement.

Majoras’ advice: “Someone within your organization must be responsible for reviewing advertising to determine whether (it) complies with your clearance standards and, for obvious reasons, that person should be independent from the marketing department that is selling ad space.”

She said weight-loss infomercials were most notorious for false or misleading claims. In 2001, the FTC determined nearly half of all weight-loss informercials contained at least one such claim.

The agency then challenged media to “do the right thing” and not run ads making these claims. Last year, after another survey, the FTC determined only about 15% of weight-loss informercials were deceptive. But Majoras singled out media companies that apparently were ignoring self-regulatory guidelines and continuing to air the ads.

Majoras said those companies should not look to the FTC if the deceptive advertiser also turns out to be a deadbeat.