While the Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) has been accused by some critics of a laissez faire attitude towards deception it has taken some actions to control the problem. It has in some advertising situations, removed a message from the communications media. However, the problems with this is that consumers may have already stored this deceptive information in their memories. Consequently the government has also adopted the position of requiring corrective advertising in which past advertising transgressions are corrected.
The first case in which such a remedy was suggested concerned in advertising by Campbell Soups. Campbell was alleged to have placed marbles at the bottom of the soup bowl in advertisement designed to indicate the large amounts of meat and vegetables in its soup bowl in advertisements. The marbles forced the solid ingredients to the surface creating according to the FTC, the false impression that there was more stock than actually existed. A group of law students designating themselves as SOUP (Stamp Out Unfair Practices) recommended that the commission require Campbell to use corrective advertisements in order to dispel the memory trace resulting from its past advertising . The FTC accepted a consent agreement in which Campbell promised not to engage in such advertising in the future and was not required to issue a correction.
The Listerine case is one of the most notable instances of corrective advertising. The situation involved advertisements which since the 1920s had cultivated the consumer belief that using Listerine would prevent or lessen the severity or sore throats and colds. The FTC required millions of dollars of corrective Listerine advertising which has intended to counter this mistaken belief. Unfortunately it is no clearly known what the results of such corrective advertising is. For example the FTC alleged that previous commercials for Bristol Myers Bufferin and Excedrin overstated their benefits and proposed that the company make certain remedial statements in future campaigns . However, research on the proposed statements revealed that remedial advertising statements may be miscomprehended as much as – or even more often than – the advertising they are supposed to remedy.
Affirmative disclosure is designed to eliminate the potential for deception in promotional material by providing consumer information on negative attributes of some products and services. Affirmative disclosures specifically requires a company to disclose in its advertising or labeling the deficiencies or limitations of its product or service . The warning notices in cigarette advertising are an example of affirmative disclosures.
The assumptions being made with affirmative disclosure is that such information will effect consumers’ attitude or purchase behavior. This puts the consumer in a position of having both positive and negative information before purchase decisions are made.
Availability of Sufficient Information:
It is felt by many in legislative, regulative and judicial circles that the consumer does not have adequate information on which to base decisions. Critics of current marketing practices claim that much actual information relevant to consumer choice is simply unavailable and that this results in higher prices. Artificial brand differences and a stress on frills that represent real value to consumers. Marketers on the other hand, rebut these claims by noting that in many of the cases in which product promotions contained numerous facts, there has been little positive effect on sales. In addition marketers feel that if consumers really wanted and would use more product information our system of competition would provide it.
In any event there is growing pressure for businesses to provide more and better quality information so that more rational or better decisions can be made by consumers. A result of this belief has led to a number of consumer information programs.
Excerpts from The Times of India