Tag Archives: Morality

Advertising as a force for good

I remember one of my early classes where we were told to define great advertising. I remember including the word ‘integrity’ in my definition. I was told that advertising has to sell, but didn’t have to ‘be’ anything other than that. It is usually honest, but that’s only because the consumer is smart enough to know when s/he is being lied to.

Where do you stand? It seems easy to say ‘keep morality out of this’ but you can’t define what ‘great’ is without making a normative call. Take the ‘so long as it sells’ argument: If you invented a way to hypnotize people into doing whatever you wanted, but it was completely uncreative and meant the target would suffer serious physical/emotional consequences, would you use it?

Maybe that’s why we need all these laws and regulations, because if we didn’t the ad industry would just threaten people into buying their products.

I still don’t believe this one bit. Advertising can and should be so much more. The end goal of the ad person should never be simply to move product, but also to re-imagine how the product can actually fulfill a vital need for the consumer. It’s hard to say who inspired who between client and agency when we talk of Nike, Coke, Apple or any of the other iconic brands today, since much great creative is presented as the clients’ idea, but there isn’t much doubt as to how they’ve impacted society. Sure, there will always be problems with sweat shops, etc. (which they’re actually working to fix), but they’ve also done much good in developing nations, improving domestic poverty, and inspiring people to strive for their goals. They also happen to be among the wealthiest companies in the world, which shows the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

But the moral obligation of the ad person goes beyond heckling people into buying, it extends to leaving things better than you’ve found it.

Take the consumers’ time, and give them something more valuable. A laugh, a sentiment, a cure. We can’t always deliver on that, but we must always try. Because the quickest way to wealth rarely involves seeking it out directly. And because every failure to deliver more than we take makes it that much harder for the rest of us to gain the consumers’ confidence in the next message.