Thursday, March 02, 2006

Advertising Agency Examines Ethics in Advertising

There are plenty of things out there to buy. There are cars, shovels, shotguns, cigars, cigarettes, bourbon, balloons, bullets and first aid kits. For everything that is sold, there is a sign somewhere advertising that product, and words on mouths spreading the news of that product to someone else. Whenever there is something to be traded, there is talk, and wherever there is talk, there is advertising.

When people think of the evils of advertising, they are often thinking of the cigarette ads that suggest we draw harmful chemicals into our lungs, or the ads encouraging us to eat food containing zero nutrition, or ads that encourage 18 year olds to go to war. While it is generally considered evil, or at least unethical, to play off someone else’s suffering for your own personal gain, it is not the actual selling of the product that is at fault here.

For every human desire, there is an answer. Often this manifests itself in vice, sin or what have you. The presence of these objects in the world is not evil in their own right. There are dangerous things out there, but their availability is not the issue here, at least in this context. It is the manner in which dangerous things are encouraged that needs to be examined.

Advertising can be a positive, beneficial force. It can be a flyer for a circus, an encouragement to vote, a declaration of good will or a call for funds for a good cause.

And speaking of good causes, I am up to $2035 out of my $5500 goal to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma, if you would like to help out, please click here.

Advertising can be as simple as a signpost, or information as to where something can be found.

A sign that informs the public that cigarettes are available in a certain location is not malevolent. It is hardly unethical, and some would argue it is even a public service.


There is more to advertising than meets the eye. Advertising can be a dark and subversive art. Many times, its goal is to pry into the unconscious mind and tinker with the deepest and darkest fears, insecurities, and anxieties of the weak. By identifying a weakness, advertising drives a wedge into a splinter of insecurity and magnifies it for the world to see. Like poison, it sinks into the consciousness of its victim, and then dangles a remedy to alleviate the pain.

Cigarette advertising is notorious for this. They prey upon young girls, especially. They highlight their lack of cool, their awkwardness, their undesirability and overall lameness, and suggest that even the biggest loser looks cooler while drawing on a cigarette. It is power.

This is where advertising, which is really only a tool, like a hammer, or bullhorn, can turn ugly. When advertisers understand the tactics to exploit weakness, and sin, and are capable of crafting images and impressions that have resonant psychological affects, then we are talking about a force that can have some real impact on society.

The implications of channelling such a force are boundless. It all depends on who is willing to stand behind the funding and distribution of such a development. So far, Phillip Morris and McDonalds and the American Military are reaping the benefits, so why isn’t anyone else?


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