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Defining the New Role for Advertising and Marketing Ethics in a Global Environment

Posted by Andrew Wamboldt on September 11, 2008

Industry leaders in advertising met today in the University of Missouri’s new Reynolds Journalism Institute to discuss media ethics in the new global environment.  This was part of the Future Forum of the Journalism School’s Centennial Dedication.

The participants in the discussion were Allison Price Arden, Linda Eatherton, William C. Price, and Wallace S. Snyder.

William C. Price was the first to speak during this discussion.  Price graduated from the Journalism School in 1963 and is currently the chairman and chief executive officer of Empower MediaMarketing.

Price said that Wallace Snyder came up with the idea for this discussion and that it was put into action thanks to Margaret Duffy, an associate professor in the Journalism School.

Wallace Snyder was the second to speak.    Snyder is the retiring president and chief executive officer of the American Advertising Federation.

Snyder said that they are currently building an advertising ethics program in the Journalism School.  He feels this is a very important program because advertising supports the entertainment industry and supports 21 million jobs in the United States.

Snyder’s central proposition is for a proactive advertising ethics program, as this is an important factor in building brand name and gaining consumer trust.  Snyder’s definition of advertising ethics is: “truthfulness, fairness, taste, and decency.”

Some of the places where advertising companies will have opportunities to show strong ethics in their advertising are in green claims, prescription drugs, children targeted ads, and gender related ads.

Next up to speak was Robert L. Wehling, a retired global marketing and government relations officer for Procter and Gamble.

Wehling was shocked at a January 2007 USA Today – Gallup poll, which asked about how much people trust people in certain professions.  Teachers and nurses were at the top at over 80%.  Those in the advertising industry were at the bottom with used cars salesmen.

He was shocked by this poll, as this is not representative of the people he had met in this industry.  He also was dismissive of the premise that those in the advertising industry can’t be trusted, because he feels that you have to be ethical and honest in order to sell a product long-term.  He thinks it is just a few bad cases ruining the good name of those in the advertising industry.

There are three aspects to advertising ethics according to Wehling.  These are: 1. Corporate Ethics  2.  Advertising ethics within a company  3.  Personal Ethics.

Wehling offered the advice to students to always ask for a written statement of the company’s ethics before taking a job at that company.  At Procter and Gamble, they limited what programs their ads could appear on.  They would not let their ads air on anything that was based on gratuitous sexual or violent behavior or disparaging to certain genders or races.

Wehling feels that what individuals do when no one is looking is the most important aspect to advertising ethics.

Wehling asked a series of questions.  Here are the questions he posed to the audience:

  • If you feel something you’re about to do is wrong, but it will not affect anyone, do you do it?
  • Does a good end justify a bad means?
  • Is it better to be truthful if it hurts or be dishonest if it helps?
  • Should politicians be held to a different ethical standard than the rest of us?
  • If drugs are legal in another country, is it okay to advertise the use of those drugs?
  • Should you use bribery if it is part of that country’s business practices?
  • Is it okay to show smoking ads in Asia?
  • Is it okay to advertise a truthful product advantage if the consume can’t see it?

Wehling says that in a world with absolute ethics and relative ethics, one thing you can always hang your hat on is doing what you truly feel is right.

The next speaker was Linda Eatherton, who is a partner and director for Ketchum.  Eatherton graduated from the Journalism School in 1972.

Eatherton stated that ethical decisions happen everyday in every meeting.  She feels that consumers want products that are not only quality, but also help the world.

Some of the main things on CEO’s minds, according to Eatherton, are: the web 2.0 revolution, globalization, corporate social responsibility, accountability, transparency, and the private sector intersecting with the public sector.

The last speaker of the morning was Allison Arden Price, the vice president and publisher of Advertising Age and Creativity.

She feels that the world still sees advertising as in Mad Men.  She went on to show a clip from Mad Men, which exemplified how people see advertising as being unethical.

She thinks that advertising companies have helped make the world a better place.  One example of this is with the Tap Project.  It was a project created in unison with Unicef to help increase the amount of the world’s clean drinking water by 50% by 2015.

As pointed out by Eatherton, there has been a massive shift in how important the company’s ethics are since 9/11.  Before 9/11, only 54% of consumers would be likely to switch brands if it meant supporting a cause.  After 9/11, 81% of consumers would be likely to switch brands in order to support a cause.

As stated by Wallace Snyder, advertising ethics is not an oxymoron.


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