Name: Loo Zheng Xian, George 13th September 2011 Marketing Ethics: A Response to Roger Crisp Introduction In his article “Persuasive Advertising, Autonomy, and the Creation of Desire”, Roger Crisp discusses his views on the issue of persuasive advertising. His overarching argument is that persuasive advertising ‘overrides the autonomy of consumers’ and he concludes that ‘all forms of a certain common type of advertising (i.e. persuasive advertising) are morally wrong’. In my response to this article, I will adopt an ethical viewpoint towards my analysis of various points raised by Crisp. Viewing Crisp’s argument from a Kantian perspective, the deprivation of autonomy stemming from persuasive advertising would be deemed as unethical. From a Kantian standpoint, this is undesirable as it does not fulfil the three categorical imperatives. Under the principle of universality, it should be said that many people would not wish to be subject to subconscious manipulation and a universal rule requiring people to subject themselves to this would not hold. Furthermore, during the course of persuasive advertising, humans are being treated as merely a means to serve the company’s profit margin and not as ends in their own right, negating the principle of humanity as well. Thirdly, in an ideal kingdom of ends, advertisers would not be able to subject themselves and their loved ones to the same subliminal tactics they employ on consumers, leaving the third imperative unfulfilled as well. A Kantian would agree that, by depriving consumers of their basic autonomy, persuasive advertising erodes their self-worth and dignity, and would therefore be an unethical practice to partake in – putting credibility in Crisp’s stand. While I support the argument that persuasive advertising is morally wrong to a large extent, I find Crisp’s standpoint that ‘all forms of (persuasive advertising) are morally wrong’ to be too allencompassing. In the following sections, I will discuss possible counter-arguments to his stand and highlight my view that it is possible that not all cases of persuasive advertising are unethical in nature. Discussion of Key Issues Crisp brings out the issue of puffery, ‘which involves the linking of a product, with the unconscious desires of consumers’. He brings out the example of a consumer who, after seeing an advertisement for Grecian Formula 16, subconsciously relates the product with power and sexual appeal, thus leading him to make repeat purchases. The key issue is that such consumers suffer an inability to decide on the product based on its merits as they have been made to believe it satisfies other inert desires within their being. From a Rawlsian ethical perspective, this directly conflicts with the principle of equal liberty. In particular, the freedom of conscience and thought of the consumers has been diminished as such advertisements take advantage of their subconscious desires, constraining their thought processes to what advertisers want them to think at a subconscious level. Furthermore, if the advertisers were to act behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, they would not wish to be in the least advantaged position of having their decision process impeded by appeals to their subconscious desire. A Rawlsian would therefore consider such advertising to be unethical.
However, would there be instances which we would be willing to allow advertisers to play on inert desires without our knowledge? Consider a man who has always wanted to feel a sense of belonging and obtains it after signing up for a credit card that relates itself with a healthy social life. Looking at this from a utilitarian perspective, in this case, the cost of the individual’s loss of autonomy is more than offset by the benefits of the fulfilment of his innocent inert desire to feel accepted. In a day and age where Ugly Bettys and Quasimodos have subjected themselves to the ridicule of society, while the deprivation of autonomous desire must be said to be...
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