|July 28, 2010|
|Advertising and Ethics are Strange Bedfellows|
|By Kevin McCauley|
|The $125 billion advertising industry wants the public to know it's an ethical business. |
That's the reason behind the newly formed Institute for Advertising Ethics that is spearheaded by Wally Snyder, ex-head of the American Advertising Federation, and the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Institute.
A PR campaign is in the works.The IAE is blowing smoke.
Ethics and the persuasion game are peas of different pods. The AAF has had its own "code of ethics" since 1984, featuring no-brainers like telling the truth, taste and decency, substantiation, testimonials, comparisons and price claims.
Yet today's public is bombarded 24/7 by ad messages for quasi-diseases. Shyster pitchman promise unattainable dreams. Heads spin as the unrealistic is offered as the new reality. Frustration, disillusionment and debt result. Meanwhile, ad agencies are nickel and dimed by clients and squeezed to stretch the creative envelop. The cycle of false hope continues.
The truth: advertisers don’t give a fig about target audiences as long as the suckers continue to show up at cash registers. Ethics are for losers, or at the very least naive apple-polishers.
Exhibit A: America’s biggest food companies are thought to be image-conscious, yet they fight tooth and nail the government’s bid to regulate ads aimed to kids to fight obesity.
This blogger is not a fan of government regulation of communication—and believes parents should be the nutritional gatekeepers for their children, but the voluntary guidelines developed by the food industry are a sham.
The New York Times reported July 23 about so-called “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative” of 16 companies that account for 75 percent of ads on TV aimed at kids under 12. The new standards allow Kellogg’s to advertise sugar-intensive Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes cereals and Yogos candy, which has sugar as its main ingredient, to kids.
A Kellogg’s nutritionist (apparently with a straight face) told the Times that candy is okay to sell to kids because the company believes “that with balance and moderation of all foods can have a place in the diet.”
Explain moderation to a child who is reaching for a third helping of Yogos.
McDonald’s and Burger King say their Happy Meals and Kids Meals are okay to market to six-year olds because they plan to show spots that have apple slices and fruit juice. And not surprisingly, ConAgra justifies its corn dog and fries. Don’t ask! [There are companies that have promised not to run any ads on programs for children under age 12. Applause goes to Hershey, Coca-Cola, Mars and Cadbury.]
Advertising is a business of persuasion and hard-sell. Ethics advocates are steam-rolled, left as road-kill. Bob Dylan put it best about advertising in his 1965 gem, "It's Alright, Ma. (I’m Only Bleeding)":
Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you
Advertising is what it is. It’s as American as apple pie, which if you hurry is now on sale at Safeway at the rock bottom price of $2.99.
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