Inequality. Global warming. Terrorism. Poverty. Religious conflict. Mental health.
These are the biggest issues on the minds of millennials today. When our biggest target audience are this globally conscious, shouldn’t ethics play a much higher role in how our clients behave and how we communicate on their behalf?
I don’t have a perfect moral compass, not by a long shot. Also, what is ‘ethical’ is open to an endless amount of subjectivity. But I do have a pretty simplistic view when it comes to ethics in advertising. If it’s right, we should do it. If it’s wrong, we should not.
You can’t (or shouldn’t) wait until a TV ad is in production then chuck a token minority into casting for diversity’s sake, and then pat yourself on the back for being so inclusive.
As an individual, that’s easy for me to say. For an agency, having a strong view about a client's actions and how they align with the agency’s values is fraught with complexity. Is the message we’re putting out in the world more important than the money we’re paid to put it out there? There’s an ethically correct answer, for sure, but when you’re juggling profit margins and, ultimately, people’s jobs, the answer becomes more muddy. This isn’t a populist view, but it’s the reality.
Ethics isn’t always about what you say, sometimes it’s about when you say it.
That being said, both marketers and brands have a unique ability to influence culture and peoples' mindsets. We have the power to make the majority feel good, at the expense of a minority. We can guide the way people cast a vote. We can make them care about the environment, or give them permission to keep their heads firmly in the sand. And all this comes with great responsibility for the agency and for myself as an individual creative. We all need to get it right, and help our clients get it right too.
The clients who live and breathe their code of ethics, are I think, the most successful.
But how do we do that?
I firmly believe that a company’s moral principles should be woven into the fabric of their business. That’s because, ethics can’t be a token gesture. You can’t (or shouldn’t) wait until a TV ad is in production then chuck a token minority into casting for diversity’s sake, and then pat yourself on the back for being so inclusive.
If you are lucky enough to work for an agency like mine, then for the most part, you’ll have a seat at your client’s table. This is our opportunity to have input into a client’s code of ethics. The clients who live and breathe their code of ethics, are I think, the most successful.
But ethics isn’t always about what you say, sometimes it’s about when you say it. Being reactive to world events isn’t always the best approach. Where possible, brands that are ahead of things have the ability to lead the conversation, which comes across as being progressive and forward thinking. Conversely, ethics can mean saying nothing at all. Being perceived as profiteering from a negative world event is kinda like taking any positive brand attribution you might have and setting it on fire.
Marketers and brands have a unique ability to influence culture and peoples' mindsets.
Broadly speaking, if a brand takes some or all of these ethical principles on board then, down the line when it comes to creatively weaving them into the work, the result is always more genuine.
And for a brand, having a genuine voice in the market is how you get people to believe; in inclusiveness, in being green, in being kind, in being good, in believing that a brand's code of ethics can become a code of ethics for life