Written by Toni Mione, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Candidate for J.D., 2013
On November 14, during the 34th Annual PMA Marketing Law Conference in Chicago, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary of Procter & Gamble, Deborah Platt Majoras, presented a moving keynote address to inspire an audience of more than 600 attorneys, advertisers and policymakers to look at the consumer relationship in a new way.
“Consumers not only have access to a dizzying array of information, they are creating and providing information. They are not passive recipients, but active participants in the brand building,” she explained. “The new trusted heroes in our society are everyday people…they want to know who’s behind the brands, can they be trusted, and are we too, interested in making the world a better place.”
As she described the social and technological backdrop that created this new kind of consumer, Majoras emphasized that the ultimate goal is not only to protect, but to empower consumers. As a former FTC Commissioner, Majoras reiterated that nothing is more effective at protecting consumers than competition, but “to work most effectively, products and services must be delivered to consumers in an honest and straightforward way.”
She emphasized how necessary it will be, moving forward, for the government and other industry regulators to strike the right balance between knowing when to step in to protect consumers and when to let them do that for themselves through market mechanisms. “Now, more than ever, it is important that as policies are developed and laws are enforced, we all view consumers as active, knowledgeable and powerful.”
So aside from government action, what else can be done? Majoras went to on to stress how important and effective self-regulation can be, stating, “Enforcers and regulators should support effective self-regulation…I’ve been a very big supporter of self-regulation for a long time…it’s not perfect, but government regulation isn’t either.”
She explained that self-regulation is really tailor-made to accomplish the goal of everyone being held to the same standards, is a very cost-effective means, and demonstrates a commitment by regulators, enforcers and even brands, to continue improving the industry.
No keynote addressing how best to protect and interact with today’s consumers could ignore modern privacy concerns. Majoras presented several shocking statistics from a 2011 survey of 9,600 individuals across 31 countries performed by KPMG, which found that 90% of respondents expressed concerns about the privacy of their personally identifiable information, yet 62% were willing to allow online advertisers to track their web usage “under the right circumstances.”
Echoing her earlier concern about “striking the right balance,” Majoras explained that while innovations provide great benefits to consumers in the digital marketplace, there are often mass data collection practices that remain invisible to them and the challenge is to figure out how best to protect privacy among consumers with different interests and desires while allowing companies and brands to continue to innovate.
Majoras concluded by again emphasizing consumer empowerment through information and a “cornerstone of the corporate mission”: trust. She advised, “Once consumers are empowered, we need to step back and let them decide…and it will be by working together as a legal community that we find the best practices and solutions.”