Modern Advertising Represents the Present, Just Like it Always Has
JOUR 4470 Blog 2
By: Michael Haake
O the bizarre world of advertising. An industry where the Most Interesting Man in the World can convince thousands of people to pick up a case of Mexico’s finest cervaza (beer) simply by saying a little tagline. Sure, all the little Chuck Norris joke inspired phrases for the first 25-seconds of the commercial are fictional, but they make us laugh every time (okay maybe you won’t laugh after the 10th time it has aired). Are ads like these ethical? I think that they are when looking from a utilitarian point-of-view. The crazy thing about ethical theories such as utilitarianism and deontology is that while the concept of what they stand for remains the same, the way we argue with them has changed dramatically over our history.
When we consider the ethical or in some cases unethical practices of advertising, one thing we need to keep in mind is how much our society has changed over the past 50-years. We have become a society that requires entertainment, and not just something that keeps our eyes amused for a couple of minutes. We need laughter, action and sex appeal.
The concept of black and white television seems about as old as that big reptile skeleton you see at the museum. In my opinion, the same can be said about advertising that just says “buy product x because it will help you” (in some sort of lame jingle). Where are the cars, or the guy getting hit in the privates, or the really hot babe in a swimsuit?
The theory of utilitarianism is an ends-based ethical theory that stresses that an action is good if it brings happiness/goodness to the greatest number of people. In other words the majority rules. In a society that craves laughter and action, is it safe to say that the majority of people would prefer advertising that entertains the viewer while it sells to them? If we follow the theory of utilitarianism, I think that it is safe to say that the majority of people prefer advertising that entertains.
An article published on twistimage.com gives a great example on how the use of utilitarianism and entertainment can create life-long customers. In the example a marketing team has a great idea for a new app, but managers aren’t sure if it will work without stating the four brand messages. “If you give something to people that they actually want to use.... no, need to use, they will love you and be loyal to you forever.” It’s about giving the consumer something they want. A company that takes a hit financially during the short-term by providing something for free has a good chance at being remembered the next time a customer is in need of your product or service.
I think that advertising produced with utilitarian characteristics make for some of the best ads. Does somebody get pissed off about it when the ads air? Yes, but we are talking about humans here, and humans will get pissed off about anything (if you’re in the mood to laugh and have some time to kill, check out this guy’s website (Warning some inappropriate language), he gets pissed about everything from elevators to Ray Ramano).
On a less funny (I’m sorry, I’ll try to end this thing with a bang) and more serious side of ethics in advertising, Immanuel Kant’s theory can be used extremely well when companies are facing troubled times or PR nightmares. I think that the best and most recent example of Kant-styled advertising is the campaign BP is doing for the Gulf. Yes, BP really, really (emphasis on the second “really”) screwed up. However, they have made a good effort at fixing the mistake and admitting to the error. This new campaign focuses on increasing tourism in areas that were affected by the oil spill.
This type of campaign inspired by Kant’s ideology not only makes BP look like it actually cares about the people and environment affected by the oil, but it also gets people like me to consider eating something from the gulf (probably won’t happen in my case). In my opinion, this campaign comes off as truth for the right reasons.
Whether advertising follows Kant, utilitarianism or no apparent ethics at all, it is important to remember that advertising has changed through time. It is always changing and adapting just like our society is always changing and adapting. There are certain elements to advertising that will never change. I don’t think we will ever see a commercial without some sort of brand or product (unless some rich guy just gets really bored). I also think advertising will continue to follow traditional ethical theories because these theories are always relevant and can be applied in different ways in future dilemmas. History repeats itself. Who knows? Maybe 20-years from now QuikTrip will need to put together a campaign like BP’s current one, or even a campaign debuting the Most Interesting Gas Station Attendant.
Interesting Man Meme
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