Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wrapping Things Up

On December 17, 2011, I will officially be a college graduate. I knew that this was the path I was going to take since junior year of high school and I had never questioned my decision to recently. It seems that being an advertiser is considered one of the least respected professions right next to insurance salesperson and a used car dealer. Half the time, when I mentioned going to ethics class, people would laugh. They made jokes about how people in that industry have no morals. I suppose that reactions such as these strengthen the need for this class. Clearly somewhere along the way we lost the publics trust.
I can agree with several claims made against us. We are in the business of altering perception and leading people towards a purchase. Employing a “call-to-action” strategy is something commonly used. Half the time, it doesn’t seem to matter how we sell a product as long as the product is being sold. Nearly every major corporation, regardless of the philosophy etched into a plaque on the wall, is in business to make money. The real question is who isn’t? Even a nonprofit organization exists for the sole purpose of making money and using it for good. These charitable organizations would never exist without people getting the word out about them. Before social media, commercials and events were thrown to bring in much needed funds. The materials, print ads, and other media were necessary elements. 
So to get slightly back on track, what did I learn this year? I learned that advertisers are blamed for manufacturer defects. That people choose to blame us rather than take responsibility for their own actions. That it is easy to throw advertising under the bus for childhood obesity and children being spoiled. That the general public can find racism, sexism and hatred even when it’s not there. I also learned that people who practice public relations somehow view themselves different from us. That part is strange to me. What is really the difference? An advertiser creates an image for a client and attempts to either strengthen or alter a preconceived notion. A public relations professional does the same thing but is also there when things go south. It could be said that when you are in trouble, you hire a PR professional to convince people you really weren’t in the wrong or that you are sorry. Whether you feel bad about your actions is irrelevant. The PR agency will find a way to fix the situation so that you can go back to selling a poor product. So why is it that advertisers get the bad reputation? 
I’d say that it boils down to the ethical practices of people in the past; people who simply looked at the law and validated their actions by staying within it. Today, there are so many laws and regulations governing or moves that we are heavily restricted to the point of forcing ethical decision making. I do not disagree with these actions but am proud the U.S. has pushed for it. I would never want to work in an industry that made me choose between making a living and being ethical. I can happily say that today we don’t have to. 
Social media professionals are still in their infancy and will inevitably go through several things advertisers have gone through. Stricter laws will come out governing what you can and cannot do in social media. Hiring celebrities to make reference of your products will be looked at as well as the issue with parental control and age. Social media is far more a part of our lives than any television commercial or magazine ad could ever be today. These facts make the responsibility of being ethical far more important to them. 
I also want to talk about the ethical theories for a moment. We spent a majority of our class learning them and applying them to several case studies. However, the one thing that I noticed was how difficult it was to truly fit into any one category all the time. Now I could see being faced with a crisis and deciding to abide by one, but to always make deontological choices or basing decisions on consequentialism would be difficult. For example, we did a case study on the SeaWorld incident involving a killer whale named Tilikum. Based on deontology, we viewed their decisions ethical however in the back of my mind, the idea it could kill again was always there. Though in their shoes, I would have made the same decision, the question of “what if” is a hard thing to ignore. I think I might have needed to weigh the two together. I could say that the whale deserves our protection always but has the whale violated our trust one to many times? You can say you’re going to always make the decision that is right to your morals but what happens when you are faced with something that goes against them which seems equally right? 
There was so much to cover this semester and I will make no attempt to talk about all of it. The key points I took from this class was the method in which I listen to my moral code. It was nice realizing that I base my decisions on consequences and the ethical nature of my decisions cannot be judged till after. I think that no decision can ever be seen as a good one until you can judge how it affects people. I can promise that any decision I make it my career will be in the best interest of both my client and the public. If I cannot fulfill my responsibility to both, then I have done something terribly wrong. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Warning: Results May Vary

I always find it funny when I’m watching someone shop on eBay. They look at the product, the description and then the pictures. After they feel they like the product, they turn immediately to the reviews. “I don’t know about this person. They have five bad reviews out of a hundred.” I’ve always said the exact same thing to everyone who asks me about online reviews. Never look at the 5 stars or the 1 stars. Those are the people who are either lying or really happy/glad about something. Just like advertising weight loss on television, results may vary. Always look for the average.
Now with the growing power of social media, so many corporations have moved towards it as a valid media channel. I was reading an article earlier that said Coca-Cola had racked up over 30 million fans on Facebook. Can you believe that? 30 million people can now receive messages from Coca-Cola as well as photos, contests, polls and promotions. But what happens when this new media channel opens a doorway to something damaging? 
The beautiful thing about social networking is it allows nearly everyone to share their opinions or experiences. Businesses that constantly work to achieve customer satisfaction benefit from this fact. But lets take Kryptonite Lock as an example. A YouTube video was created on October 30th, 2008 which showed a man who picks a Kryptonite Bike Lock with nothing more than a Bic Pen. “The videos caused Kryptonite, which had been a leader in bike locks for more than three decades, to redesign its product” (Roggio).
This is truly an incredible thing from an advertising and public relations perspective as it doesn’t matter whether this video was real or night. When people plug in Kryptonite lock in YouTube nearly all of the videos from the first page are ones showing people cracking them with everyday household items. Even scarier, a Google search for the brand name will give you results of their website followed by a link to Amazon and Wikipedia. Right after that you will see a nice thumbnail link to YouTube showing someone breaking the lock.  Look for yourself if you question this statement. I hope for Kryptonite sake that breaking this lock is as easy as they make it out to look. If these videos were fake or staged, this company could have lost an enormous amount of money because of a few people bored at home with a video camera. If the statements are real, then they had a legitimate problem that needed addressing. 
This example is a clear indication of how one company had terrible information spread about them through social media channels. But was this information libel? No, because the information being spread was the truth. Another video which can be seen on YouTube named “Kryptonite Lock Mayhem” shows interviews of messengers and bicycle store owners talking about this problem. In fact, a woman working at a bike shop was being filmed talking about how hard it would be to actually do it. She fiddled with a lock for a bit and had no luck. To prove her point further, she picked up a $160 lock they sell and seemed fairly excited when she broke the lock in an extremely short amount of time. I’m sure she regretted her excitement later when no one wanted to purchase the product ever again. 
I’d also like to talk about privacy issues in relation to social media in advertising. Facebook has long endured issues with security breaches. The internet is full of stories of people seeing pictures of their friends in banner advertisements without their consent. Facebook has apologized on more than one occasion for the actions of some of their paid advertisers. Here is a link to a statement made by Facebook November 24, 2009 after allegations they were using members photos for paid ads. Link to statement.
Parental consent is another problem Facebook and other social media channels are having to deal with. Two lawsuits I saw directly sue Facebook for allowing minors to “like” a product or service and have that information broadcasted to their followers. In turn, when a friend of theirs sees a “liked” product or service, their children are being associated with the product as an endorser. This is all being done without the direct consent of their parents. Link to first and link to second lawsuit article.
Seems that regardless as to whether a company takes part in social media, it will take part in them. People will still blog and post comments on their own walls. People will still create fan pages to boycott or promote a product. Social media is an incredibly powerful channel full of great opportunities but the regulation on libel and slanderous statements as well as privacy issues are something that will need to be dealt with for some time to come. 
Businesses and media professionals will learn how to navigate the waters surrounding social media. Further regulations and standards will go into effect the same way they have for traditional media. With as fast as social media came into existence, we all had to have predicted these hiccups. I don’t know who will be the one to finally set the rules but as advertisers, we can take the initiative to perform our jobs ethically. Just because there is room to push the law and avoid taking responsibility does not mean you should. Use your best judgement and in the end we will have one more effective way to promote and reach our cliental. 
Works Cited
Benayisworth. "Kryptonite Lock Mayhem - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. YouTube, 3 Oct. 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCxHD9_uEf8>.
Chansanchai, Athima. "Facebook Sued for Using Kids' Pics in Ads." Digital Life. MSNBC - Digital Life, 5 May 2011. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://digitallife.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/05/05/6590388-facebook-sued-for-using-kids-pics-in-ads>.
"Facebook Sued in California over Teen Endorsements - Technology & Science - Tech and Gadgets - Msnbc.com." Msnbc.com - Breaking News, Science and Tech News, World News, US News, Local News- Msnbc.com. Associated Press, 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38884528/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/#.Ttg_8WAcL8w>.
Orman, Sasha. "When Social Media and Public Perception Collide - Food and Drink Digital." Food and Drink Magazine | Food & Drink Industry News | Hotel & Catering Information | Food and Drink Digital. Food and Drink Digital, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2011. <http://www.foodanddrinkdigital.com/retail/when-social-media-and-public-perception-collide>.Coca-Cola Reference
Roggio, Armondo. "3 Ways Social Media Affects Brands | Practical ECommerce." Resources for Online Business Owners | Practical ECommerce. Practical Ecommerce, 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2011. <http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/3202-3-Ways-Social-Media-Affects-Brands>.
Schnitt, Barry. "Debunking Rumors about Advertising and Photos | Facebook." Welcome to Facebook - Log In, Sign Up or Learn More. Facebook, 24 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.facebook.com/blog.php?post=110636457130>.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Judgement Call

“...the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.” (Pirates of the Caribbean, 2003). 
When I hear the words “code of ethics” I am instantly taken back to the first day of junior high. Teachers and staff would pass out guidelines and ethical behavior handouts to go over how their students should act. Though the school would spend the better part of the morning going over this, a handful of students would actually pay attention. Even funnier, they would only pay enough attention to find loops holes in the rules and boundaries they could push. I feel that professionals in the advertising world aren’t too different. 
The PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) and AAF (American Advertising Federation) had several things in common when looking at their code of ethics. The overall theme involved seemed center on performing your job with a sense of loyalty to your fellow man and employer. The slight difference that I’ve seen is that nearly every other media profession relies on the individual or group to find their ethical path. The “guidelines” are merely there to help steer you down the right path, especially when you are referring to those involved in promotion or public relations.  
It seems for advertisers the question becomes less what is right and wrong and more what will keep you out of legal trouble. Some may find these rules and regulations to be a hindrance on a creatives ability to do their job, but I find these laws to be important and necessary. For example, what manufacturer really wants to compete in a market when your competition can slander your name and make up fake claims for their business whenever they feel like it? From the perspective of creative, knowing where the boundaries are in the world helps you walk closer to them without being afraid of going to far. I find something comforting about the black and white nature of choices in advertising because not being able to see the bottom makes me awfully nervous. 
As far as my perception of the AAF and the ethics, rules and regulations it speaks of, they all seem to be accurate to me. I work in web design and Principle 3 of the AAF says:
Advertisers should clearly distinguish advertising, public relations and corporate communications from news and editorial content and entertainment, both online and offline.
I feel that I would have trouble finding anyone that hasn’t clicked on an article or image on a website thinking it was news only to find it to be an advertisement. These practices are not only unethical, but they hold the risk of serious damage to property. Seems the less reputable a business is, the more likely they would break this rule and employ the use of viruses and cache trackers to disrupt or harm your system. 
These ethical guidelines are there to protect the masses. You have to ask yourself, does the typical person know that what they are seeing is an advertisement? Most websites have the actual word ‘advertisement’ written either above or below the image or text. Do most users see this? Do most users even know to look for this? We cannot be expected to protect everyone, but the majority of people need to be able to clearly differentiate news or information from advertisements. 
Principle four was another section that I found relevant to both my classification as an advertiser and my experiences in the web content world. Whenever I decide that I want to purchase an expensive product, my initial reaction is to look for reviews or comments left by non-bias users online. Nine times out of ten I find a blog or internet video with an in-depth look into the product. I especially look for articles weighing the pros and cons or comparing it to another. I am sure that I am not the only shopper who goes about purchases this way.  
This need for information has allowed bloggers and YouTube members to fulfill a niche in the market. For example, you decide that you want to purchase a new camera and YouTube would be a fair place to go for either official or non-bias reviews of the product. Now let’s say you pick a camera based on the glowing review of one man and are startled when the camera is pathetic. Unknown to you, the individual was being paid to perform this video and post the content. His ‘personal opinion’ was actually nothing more than an advertisement. Would you find this act to be unethical? 
It is important for each professional to fully understand the ethical ramifications of their choices. The decisions that we make will live on forever in the digital world. If we make an advertisement of poor taste or judgement, trust that it will never be gone. By taking a step-back and really evaluating your decisions, each one of us is capable of minimizing or removing completely the chance of making an ethically poor decision. Mistakes will always exist, but being perfect in your intent to deliver ethical media is in fact a possibility. The responsibility of doing what is right is yours and yours alone. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Client, Law then Ethics if You Have Time

Advertising today seems all about what is best for the client. Every single product is shown as being the best in its class and it’s rare or unseen for a brand to market themselves as being an ok choice for their consumers. The  companies that feel they have no legs to stand on will simply slash their prices and not advertise. So if everyone is the best,There is something wrong with this picture?
The classical theory that comes to mind when I think about this form of advertising would be Egoism or enlightened self-interest. Should we honestly be surprised when a corporation or business is only looking out for itself? Haven’t we all grown to simply expect this of them? 
As advertisers, it is our duty to provide to the client what they need and want within the  law. You notice I say law and not ethical reason. Law is what governs advertising and the law is what we answer to. 
Several years back a representative came to my mother’s office and said that she was going to be added to the top doctors in D Magazine. She was thrilled and shocked when she heard this news. She had advertised with them for about a year and felt very proud of the work she put into her business. Not shortly after this, the representative began talking price. My mother was shocked to find out that the doctors chosen for this annual story are simply doctors they found that would pay. The doctors were not chosen by subscribers or by a panel. The magazine didn’t ask their clients or even come to a majority of the businesses. The article, which was portrayed as a review, was simply another form of advertising. My mother, without hesitation asked the representative to leave because she wanted no part in it. 
The magazine’s actions were nothing short of manipulative. They were not looking out for the doctors or their readers or even their current paid advertisers for that matter. The only thing they cared about was making money. There is a problem when there is no difference between a top-notch facility posting an ad or paying to be on a top 100 list. Both are advertising, both are meant to increase clientele and both have about the same information. The difference is the end result. A reader can flip through a magazine, stumble on an ad and make an appointment, while another reader could be reading a glowing review and end with the same action. The catch is that one reader is making an appointment because the advertisement appealed to them while one reader is making an appointment because they trust the review. Ethically, the reader trusting the review is being deceived. 
I feel that it is our duty as advertisers to inform the public and not to manipulate. Yes, we may show a product as being amazing at doing something but when it’s being shown as advertisement it is just that. The American population is bombarded on a daily basis with media and we have grown accustomed to it. We see a banner ad a mile away and we don’t give a second glance to anything we don’t care about. Our culture has changed the game and ethical practices have changed with it. 
Do what is best for your client. Create the most attractive advertisements and work your butt off to impress them. Your career depends on it and so does their business. Remember that everything must fit within the realm of what is legal. The client is paying you to make sure of it. If you want to talk about ethics and modern advertising the question to me isn’t what’s ethical, it’s what’s legal. The general public is smart enough to make their own decisions as long as it’s clear your work is an advertisement. Anyone incapable of making that decision, such as children, are already being protected by the government more and more. Find some peace in knowing that there is probably a law for every ethical question you have. The trick is to pay attention, know the law and know what the end result of your actions will be. It is our job to inform, not to manipulate. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No time for ethics, must upload now

It would sound rational to say that every aspect of human existence benefits from being governed by ethical decision making. Whether you are handling money at a bank, food in a restaurant or the face of a major company, you should be held to a standard. Should that standard be assigned to your given profession or lifestyle? Should your ethics be taught to you in a book or school or should it be something you find on your own? People could argue for days where ethical decision making should be learned, but what is our situation currently?  
The question which this entry aims to answer is the importance of ethics in media and other forms of communication. Albert Camus, a French philosopher once said, “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world” (Think Exist, 2011). When there is nothing governing our separation from right and wrong are we anything more than simple beasts? The responsibility put on each and every professional inside media should be to provide our clients, our public with information relevant, possibly helpful or at least worth hearing. When media professionals start talking simply to talk or filling blank spots in their blog with false or misleading information they are bringing the entire profession down. 
Public relations, bloggers, news casters, column writers, advertisers and more all have a career for one simple reason. People listen or read what you have to say. If no one watched the evening news, the station would pull it. If no one responded or payed  attention to your advertisement, your client would drop you. Blogs would be removed or non-profitable at least and the list goes on. Understanding this concept should indicate the source of your work. We do not create for the purpose of creating, we do it for a reaction from our target. We have a responsibility to them due to the faith they put in each of us. When the public turns on the news at night or reads the paper in the morning they expect the information in to be true and news worthy. This faith is easily lost when your audience hears they’ve been lied to or deceived. 
Some might even dare to simply do it once. Maybe a deadline came up too quickly or a source wasn’t verified in time. Never assume that you can skate by once and be fine; News Corp. can attest to that. News Corp. is under investigation by British lawmakers and Scotland Yard for illegal phone hacking which was used to perform several illegal acts including an attempt to listen to voice mail messages of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “...past behavior is a factor that the government would consider in determining whether a criminal investigation is merited and to show a corrupt corporate culture” (Flint, 2011), said Rebecca Lonergan, a former prosecutor for the United States attorney’s office when asked about the situation News Corp. faces. If this sticks, a lapse in ethical decision make today could follow you and your business for years to come.
Ethics to a media professional shouldn’t simply be following the rules so as to avoid lawsuit. Ethics to a media professional should be the code followed to keep the profession alive and to help it grow into what it’s capable of becoming. As stated earlier, the advancements in technology and communication have opened doors. The possibility of having minute to minute reliable information across the globe is an extremely powerful and frightening idea.
I believe Stephen J.A. Ward says it best, “As we stand in the eye of this media storm, we must be both inventive and steadfast in preserving the honorable craft of journalism for future generations. We must refuse to let rapid change prompt panic or allow us to abandon journalistic ethics” (Ward, 2009).  
Sources
Flint, Joe (2011). Old U.S. suits may haunt News Corp.; Investigators could revisit them as they look into stateside phone hacking [Electronic version]. Los Angeles Times, Part B, Pg. 1.
Ward, Stephen J.A. (2009). Hard times call for more ethics [Electronic version]. The Toronto Star, Editorial, IN06.

Monday, August 22, 2011

1st Post

This is my first post as a blogger and will be using this primarily for my upcoming and final semester of college.

Thank you,
Jarrod