The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Is An Ad Agency With Ethics An Oxymoron?
June 22, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

“Trust me, I care.”

I was recently asked for my opinion on whether adland should have its own code of ethics.

The reason this topic came up wasn’t because a bunch of people started questioning what they were doing to society [though I do know a lot of people who do feel this way, of which I am most definitely one of them], but because a few people felt it was unfair that some brands were able to do – or show – stuff in their ads that other markets didn’t allow and so it automatically gave them an unfair advantage at the ‘award’ shows.

I know … I know … it’s sickening isn’t it.

Anyway, here’s what I said:

_______________________________________________________________________________

While some people think most ad agencies would happily sell their collective grandmothers for a major new business win [the truth is only 37.35% of them would] … the reality is adland already works within a number of highly controlled and regulated standards.

US Advertising professor, Jef I. Richards, sums it up best [albeit with more of an American focus and a slight edit of his whole quote]:

“There is a huge difference between journalism and advertising: Journalism aspires to truth. Advertising is regulated for truth. I’ll put the accuracy of the average ad against the average news story any time.”

However there is a major difference between law and ethics which is why a question that is increasingly being asked is whether the advertising industry should have their own code of ethics.

Well, I’d say on an individual basis – many agencies do.

Of course whether they are ethics the masses would always be in agreement with, is a different matter … however there are definitely ‘lines’ certain agencies aren’t willing to cross that go beyond the government enforced policies.

Should there be an industry wide set?

In theory it would be great but then in theory I look like Brad Pitt because I have 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth … however, as in most things in life, reality tends to cast a different light on things which is why I don’t see how it can happen.

Who would make the decision?

Who would be able to find acceptable common ground when cities [let alone countries] have completely different views on a whole range of subjects and issues … and that’s before you even take into account what is legal in one country could be tantamount to declaring war on another.

And even if someone managed to get through all that, we’d then have to suffer the internal bickering.

Seriously, do we honestly think an agency who handles, for example, a fast food brand would happily accept a ban on advertising to children?

Of course not … and if the industry felt it was ethically wrong to sell overly aspirational imagery, we’d all grind to a standstill.

As much as having a universal code of ethics sounds great in theory, I think it is best to leave it to the laws of the individual land and the ethical standards of the individual agency.

It might not be perfect, we might still sometimes try and find ways around it, but I don’t think we are capable of doing it properly or fairly on our own.


95 Comments so far
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As in all aspects of life, your ethics are revealed by the nature of the company you keep.

Comment by john

youre fucked then doddsy.

and youre not helping your fucking cause being the first twat to write a comment on this shit heap. and ive not forgotten your planner bollocks comment from yesterday. basically youd come out of it better if you were best fucking mates with that shipman murdering bastard and gary glitter.

Comment by andy@cynic

If others can call it ethnography, then so can I.

But we all know that you are the guiding light in all matters.

Comment by john

cocks call it ethnography. youre better than those pond sucking scumfucks.

thats a compliment.

your second point is unfuckingdeniable.

Comment by andy@cynic

i dont agree with the quote. since im having a hard time believing that journalism aspires to truth as long as it is not investigative. dont think advertising is regulated to show truth either. which is why i still happily agree with the last sentence of the quote.

more to the point of the post. i think every agency, in fact every company, should have a code of conduct. one they follow along. industry wide. dunno. also, if they are memebrs of certain umbrella organisations, those have or should have codes as well… and i dont think law could sort it out. voluntary commitment does make more sense to me. and can in the end be a competitive advantage. or disadvantage. from my point of view clearly an advantage.

Comment by peggy

the majority of companies do.

Comment by andy@cynic

one they follow along

Comment by peggy

in contrast to issuing nice statements that dont mean sh*t on closer investigation #spin

Comment by peggy

like campbell said, whether people agree with it is another fucking thing.

Comment by andy@cynic

andy dear, he said “whether they are ethics the masses would always be in agreement with, is a different matter”

i say they need to follow whatever ethics code statement etc they issue along. for example, you cant say you wont employ kids under the age of 16 and then you do.

Comment by peggy

you didnt get the fucking great nights sleep you said you were going to have then.

Comment by andy@cynic

i did. but something tells me youre in a really good mood.

Comment by peggy

You don’t think advertising is regulated to show truth? Can I ask what you’re basing your comment on, beyond any personal view or exceptional case history. I’m assuming Robert is talking about brands that use mainstream communication in developed markets.

Comment by Pete

lynx

Comment by peggy

shall i pull more examples or is that satisfying. and for the record. i am not attacking rob. im very lovely.

Comment by peggy

So you feel people may view using Lynx as a promise of sexual success and so have been conned into purchase by a multi million dollar advertising campaign?

Lynx might counter Unilevers official code of conduct but it’s not breached the law unless you think the planet is full of mindless fools who cannot appreciate humour and irony, nor think for themselves.

Comment by Pete

If only advertising was that influential.

Comment by Pete

does this mean i can sue every bird that has worn a wonderbra?

Comment by andy@cynic

im not thick. just saying

lynx does not show truth. spray lynx on women come running. not true. ergo no law did manage to regulate showing the truth here.

Comment by peggy

well pete, the only thing you can do now is agree with me. or make a few more guesses what i might have said or not 😉

Comment by peggy

you sound more like a religious extremist every fucking day. good work.

Comment by andy@cynic

you sound more and more like you are in such a good mood 🙂

Comment by peggy

i am. i love it when people pass their view as fact. its fucking great.

Comment by andy@cynic

ahhh thats why you do it 😛

Comment by peggy

but im always right.
small but fucking significant difference.

Comment by andy@cynic

between you and pete. he wont be happy to read this. im always right as well.

Comment by peggy

Saying no law regulated lynx is plainly wrong.

If the ad ran in a Muslim nation, then I’d agree with you – however it didn’t, it ran in Western markets.

You might not like the content … you might disagree with the positioning … but it’s not broken any laws because it’s premise is obviously tongue-in-cheek and anyone who can’t see that is either idiotic or too young to be up and watching those ads.

The law is not perfect … too many organisations try to skirt around it rather than stay firmly between the lines … but it’s there which is why agreeing with their judgement and saying the law didn’t regulate a particular item is quite different.

Come on Peggy, you know this – you’re just doing it to goad people aren’t you?

Comment by Rob

your old man would be proud. for once.

Comment by andy@cynic

to say i said that no law legulated lynx is plainly wrong. sorry rob.

“saying the law didn’t regulate a particular item is quite different”. yes in fact very different from saying that the law didnt manage to regulate to show the truth.

this is no matter of me liking the content and the positioning or not. but about the simple fact that an effect wont be happening. btw, i think they should go and take the piss out of it a bit more since every insecure little fucker knows that its not true what they are showing.

out of the blue, i can think of at least one majority muslim country where a lynx ad would run without being edited for this.

good morning!

Comment by peggy

I must be thick because you wrote “no law did manage to regulate showing the truth here” and that sounds awfully like [at least to me] you are saying Lynx ads should be banned or called to task by some legal authority because they claim [despite it being obviously tongue-in-cheek] that it attracts female attention.

Because it doesn’t, the commercials should not be allowed on air and because they have been, it demonstrates a fault in the system.

Can you help me understand where I’m going wrong based on your initial comment?

Comment by Rob

And which country are you talking about?

Comment by Rob

Oh and good morning to you too.

Almost was rude then – and that NEVER happens. Ahem.

Comment by Rob

with all due respect rob. just no.

Comment by peggy

BiH is the country

Comment by peggy

Do they sell Axe/Lynx there? I’ve done a quick search and haven’t been able to find out but I can ask the guys at BBH and see if they are allowed to run their ads there without any cuts.

Not sure what it proves if that’s the case – but I’m intrigued to find out

Comment by Rob

go ahead and let me know what you found out

Comment by peggy

Already emailed them so will let you know.

Comment by Rob

so, any news yet, rob?

Comment by peggy

Not about BiH because he’s apparently still waiting for news from his London office but the brands mainstream communication for Malaysia [the largest Muslim democracy in the World] was significantly impacted and edited due to the strict legal requirements of the country.

While the ‘spray on attraction’ message still exits, the sexual conquest innuendos and overall female skin content is at much smaller levels to the ads in Western markets – again, driven by legal requirements and general cultural acceptance.

When I hear back from Chaz, I’ll let you know.

Comment by Rob

its getting better and better

Comment by peggy

you know im gong to totally pin you down on this rob

Comment by peggy

Why, do you think I wasn’t going to do it?

Besides, it’s proving my point, though something tells me you won’t see that or agree with it. Ce la vie.

Comment by Rob

ill tell you why as soon as you come back with the results of your research efforts

Comment by peggy

what was your point again though

Comment by peggy

No doubt it’ll involve you saying you’re right, the ad world is fucked and anyone who had a counter point of view to you should beg forgiveness.

At least I’ll definitely be agreeing with you on 1 out of 3 things. Ha.

Time for sleep, ta-ra.

Comment by Rob

you didnt tell me what your point was.

but i see you are awaiting my assessment with bated breath

Comment by peggy

Errrrrm, I did Peggy, but here it is again:

“Saying no law regulated lynx is plainly wrong.

If the ad ran in a Muslim nation, then I’d agree with you – however it didn’t, it ran in Western markets.

You might not like the content … you might disagree with the positioning … but it’s not broken any laws because it’s premise is obviously tongue-in-cheek and anyone who can’t see that is either idiotic or too young to be up and watching those ads.

The law is not perfect … too many organisations try to skirt around it rather than stay firmly between the lines … but it’s there which is why agreeing with their judgement and saying the law didn’t regulate a particular item is quite different.”

You added a comment after I wrote the one above, but I still didn’t get what you were saying. However the basic premise to your view seemed to be that you think the law doesn’t stop advertising that promotes wrong/untrue messages [ie: Lynx/Axe and not really being able to offer female attraction guarantees, despite being quite obviously tongue-in-cheek] where as I say in most areas, it does … and Axe/Lynx is certainly not be one of those brands that is the exception to the rule as demonstrated by the way they had to change their communication approach to adhere to Malaysia law.

Hope that helps explain ‘my point’.

Comment by Rob

how many times do i have to tell you campbell, you can never win a argument with a woman. just like you cant win an argument with a 5 year old whose drunk too many fucking e numbers.

Comment by andy@cynic

and pick up your fucking phone.

Comment by andy@cynic

wise words andy

Comment by peggy

saves you wasting your brain cells on trying to make sense of the bollocks theyre going on about as well.

win fucking win.

Comment by andy@cynic

saying that, im going to waste some fucking brain cells on listening to campbell talk shit. well i will if the prick answers his fucking phone.

Comment by andy@cynic

Ethics rock.. #canneslions

Comment by niko

lol yeah, the workshops and seminars prove it

Comment by peggy

http://twitpic.com/5efj26 #whatdoddsysaid

Comment by niko

youre back to your fucking best. or you would have fucking been if youd used this.

https://robcampbell.wordpress.com/2007/06/23/an-inconvenient-personality/

Comment by andy@cynic

You had to go and remind me that I’ve been commenting here for 4 years. How depressing for us all.

Comment by john

hide all the fucking knives in your squalid little bedsit john.

Comment by andy@cynic

Night of the dull knives it is then.

Comment by john

You loved doing that didn’t you Andy.

Comment by Rob

making you look a starfucking twat? what do you think.

Comment by andy@cynic

10 points for the photo/quote at the top of this bollocks, made me crack a fucking smile. seriously it did. youve never managed to make Thr happen to me or any fucker before.

the rest is acceptable.

youre trying to be a smartfuckingarse as usual but you take the piss a little bit, have a point a little bit and bore us a little bit fucking less than your ranty bollocks usually go on for so all in fucking all i can let you off for hobnobbing with adland twats because im fucking guessing this post is some article youve written for some adland mag because theyre the only ones stupid enough to ask for your fucking opinion on anything.

Comment by andy@cynic

your saving grace is that compared to the bollocks any other agency twat will write for admagadrag, youll look pretty fucking good.

or leas fucking fucked as them.

as long as they dont include a photo of you in it.

Comment by andy@cynic

no one is that fucking stupid are they?

Comment by andy@cynic

Just what I need, more rules to stop me enjoying my job.

Comment by Billy Whizz

i was wrong. yes they fucking are.

Comment by andy@cynic

?

Comment by Billy Whizz

link?

Comment by peggy

my comment wondering how fucking stupid mankind can fucking go.

but im only teasing, you have talent, youre not a planner so you can never fucking fail.

Comment by andy@cynic

i thought you found the article including a mug shot. didnt find it in campaign or campaign brief. where is it rob? no one will see it anyway since its all filled with cannes, ogilvy and the usual musical job chairs.

andy just predicted a glorious future for you billy. hasnt happend on here before, has it.

Comment by peggy

It has been said.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Good article/post Robert. I agree that an international code of conduct would be impossible to write up, let alone stick to, if left to the hands of the industry.

No one seems to have picked up on it yet, but can you explain more about your opening comment to this post, about how this issue came up in the first place.

Comment by Pete

Pimps say the funniest things.

Comment by john

Can we assume that the abundance of compliments is down to good news from north of the border Andy? Or is something more sinister afoot?

Comment by john

im just a nice fucking guy.

Comment by andy@cynic

And Idi Amin was just misunderstood.

Comment by Rob

Is it an article Robert and has it been printed?
If it is and it has, could you tell me where I can view it, I’d love to read any responses or counter points of view, especially when you seem to have the issue and implications pretty tightly covered.
Good work.

Comment by George

playgirl.

Comment by andy@cynic

Viz.

Comment by DH

Bastards. But funny bastards.

@George. Not been printed yet. We’ll see if they do – if they have sense they will ‘edit it’.

Comment by Rob

Education is the key. if we don’t have a revolution in education there is no code of ethics that is worth.

Brad Pitt example was glorious.

Comment by jim

Hi Jim, nice to have you pop by.

Education is a key, but sadly, commerce overrides too many people’s choices and decisions which is why I only believe mandatory compliance from a regional governmental legal point of view will make it stand a chance.

Comment by Rob

this post disturbs me. greatly.

Comment by lauren

Why Lauren? More than I usually disturb you with my posts?

Comment by Rob

usually it’s a ‘oh here’s my loveable, smart, adfreak doing weird shit again’ kind of disturbance.

what disturbs me is that on one hand i can almost see why you might say what you did/are, but i would like to think that the practicalities of being ethical wouldn’t deter the desire or the need to have global regulation – people probably said that international human rights principles wouldn’t hold up (considering so many country’s different laws, customs, religions, etc), but it doesn’t mean that they’re not valuable and necessary.

i was also bothered because on some level, i realised that, in really wanting there to be a regulatory principle, like i imagine there to be in the financial industry (the other big game-player in driving markets globally and most people’s lives) i want to regulate the world. which kind of makes me a fascist. excellent.

the thing is, that whilst all you guys work for great agencies, with smart, caring, empathetic people who might think about the end result, that is not 100% of the ad industry. you guys aren’t the ones delivering 85% of those shitty toxic messages to people. people who are actually too dumb and up too late to work out that it’s not true, or at least MIGHT be true. it’s the seed of doubt that’s the killer.

and, while we’re at it, i would fuckin’ love it if bad takeaway brands couldn’t advertise to children because it was against the advertising code of ethics. fuckin’ imagine how quickly that’d change the world!
but yes, i know that i’m the resident bleeding heart who thinks chasing money without principles is a waste.

you’re right about education, rob. ideally, the world wouldn’t be regulated and we all would be able to see through the web of shitty promises done by those shitty BDAs and we’d all appreciate the good ideas you guys have, which would, in turn, inspire and spur you to make better ones that were really appreciated. and we’d put our money into properly good purchases, that had weight and meaning. happily ever after.

but we don’t. we get sucked into that cheap seed of doubt and the empty promises, thinking that if we buy something, quick, we’ll never be lonely, or sick, or sad. and that’s what i want to to see less of.

and it disturbs me that i’ll never see that in my lifetime.

Comment by lauren

I think a fair proportion of people who make those shitty ads would rather be doing better stuff with less ethical issue, but a combination of more restrictive clients and the need to stay employed spoil it.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

But that’s the whole point isn’t it?

Comment by john

yes, john. that’s exactly the point.

Comment by lauren

As I wrote in the early hours of the morning.

Comment by john

In answer to your question, “Is an ad agency with ethics an oxymoron?” I would say no. Every agency should have its own code of ethics.

Comment by Carol L. Weinfeld

If journalism aspires to truth then the UK news media is not journalism (excl The Guardian, BBC and AJE).

Generally I find that anyone in advertising who doesn’t at least ocassionally question the moral and ethical boundaries of doing so shouldn’t be working in the industry.

For me having a morality is what helps drive creativity, that understanding that how we interrupt people’s lives isn’t always particularly nice and we should respect that in what we say or do.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

what about the ethics of the fucking shareholders. why is no fucker banging on about the shit they get up to behind closed doors. drugs, porn, sex, its fucking sick, why should those bastards have all the fucking fun.

Comment by andy@cynic

Pining fort the cynic days?

Comment by john

the good old fucking days. at least when the fucking planners were out of the office.

Comment by andy@cynic

your freedom ends at the tip of my nose. hows that for ethics.

Comment by peggy




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