November 2004 - Per Inquiry

Cleaning Up Dodgy City

By Rick Petry

As my wife and I piled into our minivan with my two daughters-preschooler, Sophia, and her baby sister, Charlotte-whom I affectionately refer to as the niblets. Sophia, like a bolt out of the blue, queried, “Daddy, do you need to lose a lot of weight?” I paused to self-consciously examine my midriff as I pulled the seatbelt across and replied, “Well, no. I mean I could stand to lose a little bit, but…” Suddenly, I was interrupted by the four-year old who gleefully blurted out, “Then CortiSlim is not for you!”

While I have sat reflecting on this anecdote, my spouse like any good advocate has used our child’s Pavlovian response as the ironclad argument for why we need to limit our impressionable tot’s intake of television. As a marketing professional and self-anointed cultural anthropologist, I may try to convince my betrothed that “Wife Swap” is essential research, but as she peers over “Memoirs of the Da Vinci Sisterhood,” or whatever the book club is reading this month, it is eminently clear that she is not, to borrow a phrase from Sophia, “buying my baloney.”

So while I may be able to fabricate a case for why Boobah is culturally enriching or how Dora the Explorer is a wonderful introduction to multiculturalism, I am fairly certain that any supplement that claims you can lose significant weight without diet and exercise is not furthering the cause of mankind. And it now appears the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agrees.

As ERA embarks on our self-regulation program in cooperation with the FTC, it is easy to predict that there will be plenty of charges and counter-charges of who is right, who is wrong, who is aiding and abetting bad marketers, providing or failing to provide the proper leadership or, simply put, a hypocrite.

But in a world with double-blind studies sanctioned by major universities for everything from weight-loss solutions to erectile dysfunction remedies, even if every good-standing member of ERA stiffens their resolve to turn such enterprises away, there will still be enough ambiguity and some group of vendors willing to aid them in their quest to help straighten the world out and make a bit of coin. Our world isn’t black and white-it’s a grayscale. It is kind of like asking yourself: How many artificial ingredients are you willing to take in your baloney? Results may vary, indeed. It just makes sense that there should be an independent third party to help provide a filter.

The fact is we are all in partnership and without a united front, we will not have an industry. The direct marketing profession’s self-regulation efforts will only succeed when every one of us along the chain of commerce, including the broadcast community, elects to share in the responsibility. So let us collectively agree to take the pill marked “chill” and allow this process due course. Only then can we hope to make our world a better place for our sponge-like children and help clean up Dodgy City.

Rick Petry is president of agency services for Euro RSCG 4D DRTV, a full-service direct marketing agency based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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