Advertising: How Ethical Practices Can Enhance Communities and Improve Society

There is a saying– advertising sells products that people don’t need, can’t afford, and will throw away in under a year.  Ad Infinitum.  Some believe advertising to be an evil tool of communication, used to trick & talk down to a target population.

This is rarely actually the case.  In fact advertising generally has a firm belief that, when speaking to an audience, it is best to treat them with respect and in an educated manner.  Talk to them, rather than down to them.

This is the first step in a term I have coined as The Ethical Treatment of Audience.  It should be noted that a set of standards by which Advertising in the U.S. must follow already exists.  This has influenced my principles in a large, legal way.  The government has constructed laws that stipulate how to legally advertise.  Without getting too technical, they state that advertising has a responsibility to be truthful about all manners of the product you are pitching.  (Exceptions for advertisements overtly using fantasy or puffery.)

I argue that an advertisement should strive for more than merely maintaining the truth.  That should be a given.  An advertisement should strive to increase a greater good if possible.  Recently, I have been impressed by the work that Coca Cola is doing to identify itself as a happiness brand.  Rather than simply peddling its drink, they show feel good images of people doing feel good things, offering to the viewer the possibility that they could ‘give a little bit’ and make the world a better place.

If you have two minutes I strongly encourage you to open this video, Open Happiness

Coke is not alone in its belief that advertising has the possibility to improve lives.  Recently  Mayo DraftFCB Lima set out to create awareness for enrollment at the University of Engineering and Technology in Peru.  Rather than send out traditional flyers or buy television spots, Draft designed the first billboard ever that creates potable water.  Click below to see the billboard in action.

Advertising has a function: to sell products or ideas.  If it is able to do this and do something good for a community it is far exceeding its legal obligation as it begins  fulfilling an unasked  social obligation.  This can benefit not only those in a community, but drums up more awareness for the agency & client.  Advertising should strive to be as altruistic as possible, while providing the greatest utilitarian good.

What do you think the role of advertising takes?
When an agency does something for a community is it really purely to help the people?
Can altruism really exist?
What are some of your favorite feel good, uplifting, socially aware ads?

2 thoughts on “Advertising: How Ethical Practices Can Enhance Communities and Improve Society

  1. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but…. Nelson Mandela, the inspiration Pass It On ads. GET ME EVERY TIME. I really enjoyed this post. Your questions at the end are so philosophical. I think that sometimes we all have a different agenda but I do believe that most us are good and have good intentions even if you’re just trying to sell stuff. Great post.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I can admit that I had a very neutral view of advertisers and their practices. With sex being the most popular them in advertising it’s hard to not see ethics as an issue. It is absolutely refreshing to see that ethical creation of advertisement has not been forgotten and by some of the biggest names. I loved the idea of the billboard that creates potable water. That was inspirational. I really admire your stance on this and I just overall like hearing about things like this.

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