BURLINGTON, Mass.-The New England Association of Independent Tire Dealers is sending a message to all those who sell tires in the Northeast: You'd better watch your ads. The group has created a program to help police dealer advertisements in the area and weed out those that are false or misleading. It's called Ad Watch, and NEAITD Executive Director William Boutwell said the program is helping level the advertising playing field.
Here's how the program works: Tire dealers who believe they have seen a false or misleading advertisement can send a copy of the ad along with a letter explaining their position to the association office for review.
For example, Mr. Boutwell said, an ad should not claim ``All our mechanics are ASE certified'' if, in fact, not all of them are certified.
If the association believes the ad is questionable, the dealer is then asked to pay a $75 fee to cover legal costs. An attorney who has agreed to work with the Ad Watch program then sends a letter explaining the association's position to the firm that created the ad.
If the company refuses to address the issues raised by the letter, the attorney will contact the consumer affairs office in the state in which the ad appeared.
The terms of the program allow the dealer who filed the complaint to remain anonymous throughout the process.
Since its inception about three or four months ago, the association has sent letters to about six companies, all of which complied with the association's recommendations, Mr. Boutwell said.
``Their first response is defensive: `Who are you to tell me how to run my ads.*.*.*,'*'' Mr. Boutwell said. ``But I really think it's been appreciated.''
Part of the Ad Watch program's goal is to let consumer groups know that tire dealers in the area are responsible enough to police their own advertisements, Mr. Boutwell said.
``I think they understand the value of what we are doing,'' he said. ``If we don't police ourselves from within, someone from the outside will.''
Mr. Boutwell contends the program was not created to ``rat out'' competitors. The $75 charge is a way of weeding out unwarranted complaints, he said.
``If you're going to be sending me the information and you send money, you're serious,'' Mr. Boutwell said. ``It legitimizes the process.''
Although the association and its members believe misleading advertisements need to be addressed, Mr. Boutwell said he does not consider New England any worse off in that regard compared to other areas of the country.
``I don't think, for the most part, the ads are a deliberate attempt to mislead the consumer,'' he said.
Instead, it is more often the case that technicalities are the misleading aspect of an ad, he said.
The association's Ad Watch program is simply a way to let advertisers know when they are doing something wrong, he added.