100 Years of the Federal Trade Commission

WILLIAM L. WILKIE
Academic
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Key Takeaways
  • Marketing academia’s can contribute to better public policy decisions at FTC
  • Increased spending at FTC demonstrated the perceived value of marketing insights
  • Relationship between marketing scholars and FTC mutually beneficial

Selections from

Journal of Public Policy & Marketing

January 2015 | Marketing's Inputs to the Federal Trade Commission

The fall 2014 issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing contains a special section of “insider look” essays that document a little-known but important initiative: infusing marketing knowledge into the operations of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the primary regulator of marketing activity in the United States, charged with providing a “fair competitive and consumer environment” for the nation’s economic system. In 2014, the organization celebrated its 100th anniversary. 

The infusion of marketing insights at the FTC began in the early 1970s. As a law enforcement agency, the FTC had, until that time, been run almost entirely by attorneys, with a small staff of economists—and neither group was aware of or appreciative of the academic marketing field. Accused of too little activity by President Nixon and pressured to increase its consumer protection efforts, certain FTC officials decided to discover whether marketing academics might help, and launched the Marketing Academic Consultancy Program (Project MAC), in which marketing academics would take university leaves of absence to work inside of the FTC as consultants, then recruit their replacements so as to maintain a continuing presence from the field to work on commission matters.

Over the next 10 years, some 30 marketing academics moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as in-house consultants in this program, and many others were called upon for specialized projects and testimony, as the potential of marketing insights were increasingly recognized by FTC management. A massive increase in FTC spending for marketing research activities, from essentially zero spending in 1972 to some $1 million just six years later, demonstrated the perceived value of marketing insights. Important benefits also flowed back into academia, as this program formed a prime basis for the development of today’s “marketing and society” research area, including the AMA’s JPP&M, its annual Marketing and Public Policy Conference, and its bi-annual Doctoral Consortium.

The 12 essays in the fall issue’s special section cover more than 40 years of marketing academics’ contributions to public policy, while also conveying a strong sense of the regulatory context and challenges. 

In Andrew J. Strenio Jr.’s article, “Marketing Trade Craft at the Trade Commission,” the current partner at Sidley Austin LLP and former FTC commissioner provides sage insights about what has transpired at the FTC, and what the agency (and marketing academics) might strive to achieve in the future. In my personal experience, there have been two FTC commissioners who have been the most perceptive about marketing academia’s potential to contribute to better public policy decisions: the late Mary Gardiner Jones, who worked to open the FTC’s doors to marketing scholars in the early 1970s, and Strenio, who worked to reopen those doors and formally invite us back into the agency in the early 1990s. 

As for my own experience, I had just ended my second year as an assistant professor in 1972 and went on leave to the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection as its first in-house consultant on marketing. My article, entitled “My Memorable Experiences as a Marketing Academic at the Federal Trade Commission,” provides an historical background on my work to help create Project MAC at the FTC, and includes descriptions of the types of issues that I worked on at the commission, including cigarette warnings, comparative advertising, corrective advertising and provision of consumer information. I also provide an overview of how a set of marketing academics drew upon their FTC experiences to create the present-day field of marketing and society research. 

Debra Scammon, now the Jones Professor of Marketing at the University of Utah, was a doctoral student when Harold Kassarjian, her advisor, returned from his Project MAC tour at the FTC and arranged for her to work with the agency on her doctoral dissertation research. Her topic was the nation’s new effort to effectively provide nutritional disclosures on food labels. She later joined the FTC under Project MAC in the late 1970s. Her article, entitled “Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection, 1978-1979,” provides us with an excellent look at the major issues of that time, when consumer research was at the center of focus at the agency.

Kenneth L. Bernhardt, now the Regents Professor Emeritus at Georgia State University, was an associate professor when he joined the FTC under Project MAC in the late 1970s as head of the new Office of Impact Evaluation. His essay, “Consumer Research at the Federal Trade Commission from 1978 to 1980,” outlines the wide range of his work and his expenditures—in excess of $1 million dollars—and provides insight into the extent to which marketing research came to be valued at the FTC.

After a deregulatory hiatus in the 1980s, efforts were made in 1990 to reinstitute Project MAC (with Commissioner Strenio leading the way on the agency side), and J. Craig Andrews, now the Kellstadt Chair in Marketing at Marquette University, was the first to do so. In his essay, “Consumer Research at the Federal Trade Commission: My Experiences from 1992 to 1993,” he describes the positive reception that he experienced and projects that he undertook. He also explains the salutary effect this had on his subsequent academic career, and the directions that he has taken, including his current work—again as a professor on leave—at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Manoj Hastak, professor of marketing, and Michael Mazis, professor emeritus, both at American University, provide a dual-authored essay because they were “local” faculty members who have worked jointly as part-time consultants at the agency for many years. They tell their separate stories in their essay, “Three Decades of Marketing Academic Input at the Federal Trade Commission: Contributions to Research, Policy Making, and Litigation,” in which we learn that Mazis was one of the early Project MAC participants, and then stayed with the agency in roles that included chief of marketing and consumer research in the 1970s. He then moved to American University and continued to consult with the FTC. Hastak joined American University around 1990, began to work with Mazis, moved on to the reconstituted Project MAC program for a year, and then began a long-term, part-time consultant role that continues today. Their paper draws on a rich experience base and provides tremendous insights into the ways that marketing is improving the work of the FTC today. 

Janis Pappalardo, now assistant director of consumer protection for the Bureau of Economics at the FTC, is a consumer economist who has contributed to the marketing and public policy research area for many years. Within the FTC, economists assigned to the consumer protection area are dealing with many issues in common with marketers’ interests. In her essay, “Contributions by Federal Trade Commission Economists to Consumer Protection: Research, Policy, and Law Enforcement,” Pappalardo provides an extended overview of the organization’s work, giving us a better appreciation of the issues confronting the FTC today, as well as its internal operations. 

The experiences reported in these essays represent a valuable lesson about the synergies possible when a public policy entity is willing to open its doors and ask the field of marketing academia to explore its problems and offer possible solutions. The FTC benefitted enormously from our involvement, and so did we, both as individuals and collectively. 


Articles Featured in This Collection

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Murphy, Patrick E. (2014), “Reflections on the Federal Trade Commission,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 33 (Fall), 225–28.



Strenio, Andrew J., Jr. (2015), “Marketing Trade Craft at the Trade Commission,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 33 (2) Fall, 191–94 

Wiener, Joshua L. (2014), “Federal Trade Commission: Time of Transition,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 33 (Fall), 217–19.

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Author Bio:

William L. Wilkie
WILLIAM L. WILKIE
Nathe Professor of Marketing at University of Notre Dame. Professor Wilkie has been recognized by the American Marketing Association with the “Distinguished Marketing Educator Award.” The AMA also inaugurated the “William L. Wilkie 'Marketing for a Better World' Award” in his honor. During his career he has served on numerous editorial boards including Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Marketing Research.
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