116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The BBB was founded more than 100 years ago.
We are fond of the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Scamming and cheating of consumers, unfortunately, seems to be a growth industry.
In the early 1900s, much of advertising was limited only by the boundaries of the imagination and many unscrupulous sellers perpetrated numerous scams on the unsuspecting public such as the charlatans promoting miracle cure tonics, potions and creams — some containing dangerous drugs and large amounts of alcohol.
The marketplace began a series of rapid changes as more consumer goods reached receptive buyers. But quality and service did not always keep pace with the claims of advertisers and the expectations of consumers. Outcries for consumer protection challenged businesses on all fronts.
The legitimate business community faced a crossroads. How could it protect this important tool before those less reputable destroyed its credibility? How could it be made clear to the public that ethical failings of the few did not represent policies and practices of the majority of advertisers?
The response to that challenge was to create self-policing Vigilance Committees of local ad clubs. As there was no regulation on advertisements, businesses could make outlandish claims about nearly anything and everything, and there was no one checking that those claims were legitimate.
These Committees were devoted to eliminating abuses and creating advertising codes and standards and quickly spun off into independent Better Business Bureaus.
Vast and restrictive legislative programs ultimately were proposed, aimed at real and exaggerated charges of business exploitation of consumers. As the marketplace heated up, Better Business Bureaus — at their peak numbering more than 140 locations — were challenged to serve the growing volume of consumer requests for service.
Fast forward to the end of the century as local and national business members of the Bureaus developed an appreciation for the important role it played in helping business in their relations with their customers and in limiting government intervention by fostering business self-regulation.
In the past 20 years, with the constant change spurned on by technology, e-commerce and our world economy, the only thing that is predictable is, in fact, change.
The BBB still works with the public to promote honest advertising by assisting businesses to help ensure ethical and truthful advertising, guided by the BBB Code of Advertising. Adherence to its provisions significantly contribute to effective self-regulation in the public interest.
This Code is comprised of 20 Standards whose principles and specific provisions include guidance on advertising placed in all forms of media, including print, broadcast, online and mobile formats.
The Code’s basic principles state that the primary responsibility for truthful and non-deceptive advertising rests with the advertiser. And that advertisers should be prepared to substantiate any objective claims or offers.
Further, advertisements that are untrue, misleading, deceptive, fraudulent, falsely disparaging of competitors or insincere offers to sell shall not be used. In addition, an advertisement may be misleading by implication even though every sentence separately considered may be literally true.
Misrepresentations may result not only from direct statements, but by omitting or obscuring a material fact.
Bobby Hansen is regional director for the Better Business Bureau Cedar Rapids office; (319) 365-1190.