Tuesday, June 28, 2005

sustainable advertising

There is good advertising and there is bad advertising. To break down the different styles of communication there is:

1. Maintenance advertising - used to keep a product top of mind.
2. Awareness advertising - used to draw attention to a new product of service
3. Reactive advertising - used to make information about a product easily available when sought out (think Yellowpages).
4. Call to action advertising - Used to induce a sense of urgency and response.
5. Need-creation advertising - Used to create a need where one did not exist before.

Inherently, there is nothing particularly unethical about informational advertising (1 through 3). There has been signage since the beginning of time, and the passing of information is a necessary service, like transportation, or packaging. They are features of an economy. The issue of the resultant pollution is a matter that will improve as the world becomes increasingly sustainability-minded, ideally with communication strategies embracing constructive means such as art shows, concerts, events, displays, fairs, and sponsorship. People often forget that it is because of advertising we have free entertainment and funding for the arts and sciences. This is what advertising should be about - exchanging information about a service or product for useful information, entertainment or assistance.

Advertising can bring awareness of danger, and can be used to inform and instruct.

Procter & Gamble has used advertising campaigns to raise awareness of health issues, such as dental health education in Zimbabwe and women's health issues in China. Indeed, advertising can be switched from intensifying consumption to promoting consumption solutions. It can help sustainability-driven companies create awareness amongst people who want to be sure that their purchases create an enhanced quality of life.

But then there is bad advertising.

Advertising is merely doing its job to announce the presence of products that are unethical by their very design, such as cigarettes or weapons. Illustrating the availability and presence of anything is the job of the media - and to make something known is a neutral process.

However, advertising has the power to affect people's thinking, and play upon emotion. Done well, it is artful, effective and deadly.

This is where the waters become muddy. Call to action advertising and need-creation are dark arts. This kind of advertising will toy with people's minds by inducing a poison based upon insecurity, fear, or worry and then provide an antidote to alleviate the uncomfortable sensation. That antidote is the product.

Take the latest campaign by Bell.

1. The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. (induce fear)
2. So young girls should not walk alone at night through dark places. (value affirmation)
3. It is our duty to protect those we care about from danger. (tapping into belief system)
4. There is a need for safety - because 'you never know'. (so a threat does exist)
5. A cell phone can be used as a safety feature. (illumination of feature)
6. You have not bought your daughter a cell phone so you are not fulfilling your duty as a parent and protector to keep her from harm's way. (dissonance is created by pointing out discrepancy between value and action)
7. Cognitive dissonance creates a mental discomfort (poison) that can only be alleviated by satisfying the discrepancy.
8. The duty to protect a child is too firmly rooted to be dismissed, so to maintain consistency with the value system, action is required
9. By buying a cell phone for your daughter you are satisfying the actions required by a belief system to manifest that system.
10. When action required to satisfy the belief system is performed, the dissonance is alleviated. (antidote)

This poision/antidote model of need creation is very prevalent in advertising. Essentially it creates discomfort based upon fears and insecurities. It creates a scenario that people can relate to based on their own self-doubt and insecurity. It has to challenge your belief system. By creating and perpetuating insecurities, advertising has the capacity to create dis-ease. For this reason, a truly ethical agency must avoid need-creation advertising.


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