Ad Restriction Laid to Rest

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Virginia media outlets, including TV and radio, could pick up some new business from one of the oldest professions (no, not that one).

Under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, Virginia funeral homes will be able to advertise discount services after the Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers agreed Monday to deep-six a provision conditioning state licenses on an agreement not to advertise discounted services as part of "preneed" funeral pitches.

The regulation had stated that such discounts and other enticements amounted to "interfering with the freedom of choice of the general public."

The FTC disagreed, saying that so long as the advertising was accurate, the board was restricting price competition by "depriving consumers of truthful information about prices for funeral products and services."

The FTC's action does not prevent the board from enforcing "reasonable rules to prohibit advertising that the board reasonably believes to be materially fraudulent, false, deceptive, or misleading."

In agreeing to a consent decree, the board struck the prohibition and will not discourage "any truthful, nonmisleading price-related advertising."

Elizabeth Young, executive director of the board, said the law has been on the books for 15-20 years and was meant to discourage bait-and-switch advertising on everything from church fans, bulletins and obituary pages to TV. Young says she has seen an increase in TV ads as well as on the internet --you can buy a casket online, but also points out there have been no recorded complaints of violations of the now-excised rule.

Young couldn't say whether the lack of complaints meant the prohibition had been incredibly effective or entirely unnecessary.

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