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Watchdog Agency Keeps an Eye on Deceptive Ads


Let's say you run a big American corporation that make men's shoes. I'm your competitor. You launch an expensive advertising campaign for a new shoe. The ads claim the shoe cures flat feet and is much more effective at preventing blisters than MY company's shoe, which the ads mention by name.

Your ads cite vague scientific research, and I'm quite sure your shoe's no better than mine. If I do nothing, and your splashy ad campaign works, my company's sales and profits could suffer.

So what can I do?

If I write you a nasty note telling you to pull the ads, you'll likely ignore it.

Lawsuits cost a lot of money and take months or years to resolve. Even if I win, the harm from the ad campaign will have been done.

But there's a third option that the makers of everything from soft drinks to hockey helmets use to resolve such disputes. Something called the NAD -- the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- investigates companies' complaints about competitors' ads. The advertising industry pays for the NAD staff of lawyers, who are also trained in sciences that affect foods, medicines, and other products. The NAD checks out claims and tests products. And within sixty days it gives the ads its blessing or rules they're deceptive and asks you to change or withdraw them. Perhaps because the NAD's detailed reports are made public, advertisers go along with its recommendations ninety-five percent of the time.

This hasn't stopped all deceptive advertising, but it has cut down on wild, unfounded advertising claims. Now, about this shoe of yours, and those flat feet . . .