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.