<bmcdonough> let me start by saying that
ethics in advertising is not an oxymoron. The people who work
in this business are very concerned about making sure that
what we do is truthful, non-deceptive and ethical
<bmcdonough> any takers to my assertion
<bmcdonough> we have our own values to live up to
<bmcdonough> we have our own legal counsel to work with
<aboyle> What types of activities are practitioners
engaging in to ensure ethics?
<bmcdonough> well, see the above two points and I'll
<bmcdonough> we also have a great number of legal precedents
that are drawn from a collection of exceptions
<bmcdonough> by exceptions I mean that there have been
problems and they have been aggressively pursued
<aboyle> Can you elaborate on these?
<bmcdonough> we have our own self regulatory mechanism
<bmcdonough> we have the courts
<bmcdonough> we have our own legal requirements
<aboyle> Are you referring to the NARB?
<bmcdonough> yes, the NARB and the children's unit of
<bmcdonough> Bob Ptofshy at the FTC always cites this
a great example of self regulation
<bmcdonough> He was the Chairman until the new administration
<bmcdonough> we also have states attorney generals
<bmcdonough> they have become relentless in their pursuit
of what I will call the exception
<jane_kirtley> But you're talking about legal enforcement.
Law and ethics aren't necessarily synonymous.
<bmcdonough> often the exception is not anyone's premeditated
<bmcdonough> that's right
<bmcdonough> the ethic is about what is our motivation
<bmcdonough> we are motivated to sell in a truthful
and non-deceptive way to legally market products
<aboyle> I agree that law and ethics are not synonymous.
I'm writing a paper on advertising ethics (I'm a MA student
at U of MD) and have not been able to find much about advertisers'
views on the subject of ethics.
<bmcdonough> lets get right to it
<bmcdonough> are cigarettes ethical to advertise?
<bmcdonough> I say yes
<bmcdonough> it is legal to sell to 18+ year olds -
<bmcdonough> if we agree to that fact, then it is ethical
<aboyle> Why do you say cigarettes are ethical to advertise
- because the law says they are legal products? Doesn't this
again blur the line between law and ethics?
<bmcdonough> I would be happy if it were not ethical
to sell cigs
<bmcdonough> but they are
<jane_kirtley> I disagree. Just because you have the
legal right to do something doesn't mean it is the right thing
<bmcdonough> fair enough, but I agree that any legal
to market product should be able to truthfully and non-deceptively
<bmcdonough> this difference of opinion is why ethics
is so interesting a topic
<aboyle> Many academic critics of advertising say that
advertisers have no greater social purpose. I don't necessarily
agree with this, but am interested in your views.
<Jane_kirtley> I thought the discussion was about ethics,
though. If ethics and law are the same, then you are allowing
the courts to decide what is the right thing to do.
<bmcdonough> advertising is a commercial function
<bmcdonough> it can have some greater purpose, but its
job is to sell
<aboyle> So, should advertisers only answer to the market
and courts? If it can have a greater purpose, what would that
<bmcdonough> no the courts are only that; one of the
arbiters of what people think is ethically right
<bmcdonough> we have our own standards as well--it's
called the little voice inside of us
<bmcdonough> we know the difference between right and
wrong and the people that I work with are very concerned about
<Jane_kirtley> As an educator, how do I inculcate that
"little voice" in my students? What are the issues
young people in advertising don't 'see'?
<bmcdonough> advertisers answer to each other daily
<aboyle> One of the problems I've found for the industry
is that the little voices aren't talking to each other often
<bmcdonough> we have lots of discussions about the intent
of the advertising and whether the ads fulfill or not.
<bmcdonough> we also make sure that we are doing it
in a truthful and non deceptive way
<bmcdonough> you see, this standard of truthfulness
is the all important starting point.
<bmcdonough> we also don't want to deceive
<bmcdonough> there is no gain to it
<bmcdonough> Volvo unwittingly deceived their consumers
<bmcdonough> they did a commercial that showed how strong
and safe their cars were and rigged the cars to make the point
<bmcdonough> they rigged the cars to save money. a silly
reason given the fallout of that event
<bmcdonough> the agency lost the business
<bmcdonough> BIG MISTAKE!!!
<aboyle> How much of the blame for such an action should
be placed on the agency vs. the client? That is, how much
does the client know?
<bmcdonough> the brand lost its trust with its consumers
and they lost sales
<bmcdonough> there is no virtue in not being ethical
<bmcdonough> you lose on every front
<bmcdonough> there was nothing legal about any of that
<bmcdonough> everybody lost and it was, I believe, an
<aboyle> How was that innocent?
<bmcdonough> there is another great story about the
agency that put marbles in the soup
<bmcdonough> if they hadn't, it would have been tomato
soup, not vegetable soup
<bmcdonough> so they put marbles in the soup to make
you realize there were vegetables there
<bmcdonough> the issue of intentions became the great
<bmcdonough> I've talked to the now deceased account
guy on that photo shoot
<bmcdonough> he said that he'd do it again because he
was trying to truthfully and nondeceptively tell the product
and brand story
<bmcdonough> there are other cases where people in our
business need to know that prior substantiation is necessary
<bmcdonough> most lay people don't know this
<bmcdonough> we HAVE TO KNOW BEFORE WE ADVERTISE that
the facts we present are proven as true
<bmcdonough> that is a terrific ethical standard
<aboyle> How was that standard set?
<bmcdonough> the standard was a court case
<bmcdonough> we call it the Pfizer.
<bmcdonough> by the way, did you know that political
advertising doesn't have the same standard?
<bmcdonough> they don't need to have prior substantiation
for saying that Bob Dole will raise taxes
<bmcdonough> absolutely amazing
<aboyle> No, I didn't know that, but thanks for the
reminder. I presume that we are talking about commercial advertising
here - not political or social issues advertising?
<Jane_kirtley> There were attempts to enact "truth
in political advertising" statutes in several states
a few years ago, however.
<bmcdonough> it gets held up and tarred with the same
<bmcdonough> I also think that some of the best advertising
that shows our ethical concern is seen in the public service
work we do
<bmcdonough> most of this is done for free
<aboyle> This is true, but the criticisms of advertising
most often point to commercial advertising - I think this
hurts advertising considering the same techniques are used
to promote "socially desirable" products and behaviors.
<bmcdonough>I don't follow
<aboyle> Well, critics often ignore the public service
work and other efforts tied to social advertising. When they
criticize, they use the term advertising to refer to commercial
advertising and largely ignore these other facets.
<bmcdonough> advertising is selling--selling anything
<bmcdonough> selling candidates, giving blood or cigarettes
<bmcdonough> It's hardly ethical for critics to be selective
<bmcdonough> but you are right
<aboyle> I agree. I'm just pointing out a weakness in
<bmcdonough> they will single out the exceptions and
not point out all of the great work that people talk about
<bmcdonough> and as an advertising person, I hear a
lot about advertising that people like
<aboyle> What are some of these things?
<bmcdonough> sorry, what things
<aboyle> The things people like about advertising.
<bmcdonough> they like the way they become a part of
our everyday vernacular
<aboyle> Such as slogans, etc.?
<bmcdonough> like the current Budweiser ads w. "Whassup."
<bmcdonough> sure, slogans
<bmcdonough> I love the selling line for Apple
<bmcdonough> the computer for the rest of us (c.1984)
<bmcdonough> Hallmark, when you care enough to send
the very best
<aboyle> Many social critics - especially in the area
of gender studies - point to this very phenomenon of infusion
into the culture as harmful considering some of the messages
our young people see.
<bmcdonough> think of what my teenagers and pre-teenagers
see outside of advertising
<bmcdonough> advertising is tame
<bmcdonough> very tame
<bmcdonough> the rest of it isn't guided by the same
standards or values that we are
<bmcdonough> the social commentators are sitting on
<aboyle> Does that make it right to expose children
to sexually explicit material or girls to relentless images
of heroin chic models?
<bmcdonough> advertising is easy to criticize--try doing
it with all of the various issues that we need to consider
<bmcdonough>I suspect it's fair it, but it may not be
<bmcdonough> but it is what young people are looking
<bmcdonough> advertising follows, it doesn't lead.
I agree that the social commentators are sitting on the sidelines,
but too few advertisers are talking to the public about this.
I'm interested to know how the products of discussions among
advertisers about ethics get to the public? I think what you
are doing here today is extremely admirable, but too few of
your peers seem to be doing the same. I've found very little
literature from a professional standpoint and meetings/conferences
often exclude people
<bmcdonough> well, the AEF sure is trying
<bmcdonough> and we try through other forums
<bmcdonough> but the virtuous side is not nearly as
interesting as the exceptional case
<aboyle> This is very true.
<bmcdonough> the same as other areas that get covered
<bmcdonough> I'll say this
<bmcdonough> I like to defend advertising for its ethic
<bmcdonough> I think our case is very strong
<Jane_kirtley> What values should we as educators be
inculcating in students? What don't they "get" concerning
ethics as they go into advertising?
<bmcdonough> we work hard at it
<bmcdonough> that this is a job that challenges you
daily to make tough calls that put your own scruples to the
<bmcdonough> its exciting to have to deal with so many
situations that are "judgment calls"
<bmcdonough> this is certainly part of what we get paid
<aboyle> Any suggestions for other forums where I might
find some more practitioners' views on the subject? I think
Jane's questions speaks to this - while AEF's efforts are
certainly pointing us in the right direction, there certainly
isn't a coherent, standardized method of teaching future advertisers.
As such, ethics are often overlooked in education.
<bmcdonough> young people should know that there are
a lot of things that go into the judgment about the preparation
<bmcdonough> that's why the AEF sends ambassadors to
<bmcdonough> when I go I've done community forums
<bmcdonough> and college course presentations
<bmcdonough> we try to reach as many as we can
<bmcdonough>I have a talk I give called the deceptive
power of advertising
<bmcdonough> it is deceptive because it makes the case
for how ads are the engine to our economy
<bmcdonough> think of the innovation that noone would
know about w/o ads
<bmcdonough> is that ethical for all that creativity
to go unnoticed?
<bmcdonough> w/o us, nnone would know
<aboyle> No, advertising certainly plays an important
information function in society.
<bmcdonough> but it is the information we choose to
<bmcdonough> it is not perfect information
<bmcdonough> we live in a market of "buyer beware"
<bmcdonough> consumers have a responsibility too
<bmcdonough> this is not one sided
<bmcdonough> I've lectured this point to my children's
4th grade classes
<bmcdonough> (when they were in 4th grade)
<aboyle> Unfortunately - and this is not advertising's
"fault" - many consumers are apathetic and are not
engaged. Should advertisers take this into account or is the
responsibility back on society in general to better educate
<bmcdonough> some old FTC guys wanted advertising to
use complete information
<bmcdonough> it can't be done
<bmcdonough> we only have :30
<aboyle> But it would be tediously boring...
<bmcdonough> we have to work very hard to find the most
compelling thing to say
<bmcdonough> very boring and that would be the end of
<bmcdonough> in the best sense, we are driven to get
advertising that is talked about
<bmcdonough> talked about for the right reason
<bmcdonough> think about Federal Express, people loved
that old advertising
<bmcdonough> or countless other campaigns
<bmcdonough> do you remember the old MasterLock commercial
<bmcdonough> the bullet goes through it and it stays
<aboyle> The need for this drive, as I understand it,
is to get through the clutter. Because advertising is so pervasive
and arguably influential on social development, what social
responsibility do advertisers have to present "moral"
<bmcdonough> How does that promote the NRA message?
<bmcdonough> is that ethical
<bmcdonough> some anti gun people would be outraged
by that spot
<aboyle> I'm not familiar with that ad.
<bmcdonough> I'm anti NRA and I think that is a great
<bmcdonough> it ran once a year on the super bowl
<bmcdonough> that's it
<bmcdonough> one time a year
<bmcdonough> they have not run it for the past two to
<bmcdonough> the super bowl has gotten too expensive
<bmcdonough> my hands are getting tired
<bmcdonough> any more questions? This is fun
<Jane_kirtley> Thank you.
<bmcdonough> you're welcome
<aboyle> Thank you very much for taking the time to
do this - I hope more practitioners do the same - it will
go a long way to stifle the criticisms.
<bmcdonough> I agree and we're trying
<moderator> If you have any further comments about ethics
that you would like to share, you can post them to the aef.com
<aboyle> Thanks Bill - this has been very helpful. Any
advice for a confused master's student about what to do while
entering the field?
<bmcdonough> come in showing an amazing passion for
<bmcdonough> what you think are behind the ads
<bmcdonough> write all of the agencies
<bmcdonough> we are always looking for good people
<bmcdonough> many offer summer internships
<aboyle> Thanks again.
<moderator> Thanks for joining us. Please check back
for further discussions
Content Master, aef.com