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I'm here to talk about ethics in advertising.
No, this isn't going to be "The shortest lecture ever given." People in advertising spend a lot of their time dealing with ethical choices, and those choices are almost never black and white. They're subtle, shades-of-gray choices, juicy enough for a Philosophy major. Let's start with the truth. Telling the truth seems like a pretty basic ethical standard. The world's best example of truth in advertising may be a tiny "Help Wanted" ad that appeared in the London papers in 1900: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. Ernest Shackleton." Englishmen being what they are, the ad drew an overwhelming response. And Shackleton's Polar expedition turned out to be far, far worse than his bleak copy promised - a rare case of an advertisement over-delivering on its claims. Now let's look at a more subtle shade of truth in this infamous Volvo commercial. In a real-life monster truck show, the Volvo was the only car left uncrushed - a great idea for a commercial! But to make the ad, the film company needed to shoot several takes. So they reinforced the beams inside the car to stand repeated squashing. When this came out in the press, Volvo was pilloried and their ad agency got fired, ultimately going out of business. Did it serve them right? Or was it a bum rap? No question the demo was rigged. But what it showed was the truth: if a monster truck runs over you once, you're safer in the Volvo. An ethical brainteaser we deal with every day is: "What can you legitimately simulate to illustrate the truth?" Before you answer "nothing!", ask yourself if a Higher Purpose would be served if Pampers and Kotex commercials showed the real thing instead of that fake blue water. Ads for reputable companies almost never lie. They have to be able to prove what they say to their own corporate counsel, the ad agency's lawyers, the network's...
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