Following the big response to Doug Gimesy's opinion piece on ad ethics, B&T caught up with him to further flesh out the issue.
Q. What did you make of the response to your article?
I think it's great that a lot of people have engaged with this issue, and looking at all the comments, some great points have been raised. For example, the view that it can be just as important to consider the outcomes of an action, as well as the motives behind it, is absolutely valid.
Q. Some have said that you are just splitting hairs and being semantic. Do you disagree?
No, not at all, however I do find it ironic that when a large strategic component of any good advertising is based on understanding the meaning and impact of communication – whether it be via words, sounds or visuals – that I was criticised for what semantics is all about – the meaning of language. If the meaning of words was not important, would we really need highly skilled copywriters?
Q. Isn't there a thin line between coercion, manipulation, persuasion and education?
I understand how some people might think that, for what may be manipulation to one person, may simply be persuasion to another. And what may be persuasion to one person, may have no influence whatsoever on another. However, I think it's important to understand that coercion, manipulation, persuasion and education are very different approaches used to influence others, and each is embedded with a different intent and application. Notwithstanding this, there are two things that connect them all, and that's their ability to influence, and the degree of respect, or disrespect, that they show towards their target market.
Q. So how do you see them as different?
For me, coercion is when a situation is created that forces someone to behave or not behave in a certain manner. Emotional blackmail is a great example. Promoting a product as the 'in thing' can set up the threat of being excluded from a social group if you don't own it, and so can drive someone to purchase it when they normally wouldn't. This is more often seen with younger people where peer group pressure is stronger.
Psychological manipulation is, as I mentioned in my opinion piece, when someone tries to influence another, with the aim of changing their perception or behaviour through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. Persuasion on the other hand is when someone tries to influence another through reason and argument, and this is often done via the removal of bias, and then providing them with balanced options. Education is simply providing someone unbiased and balanced data.
Now certainly all four approaches may have the same outcome, and these can be positive or negative, however I think that the motives behind whatever strategy or approach is used, is just as important as the outcomes produced.
Q: Any last words?
Ethics are always important, and as highlighted in one comments made to my piece, unfortunately we often see these lacking in those organisations, industries or institutions that have significant influence on our society. When done effectively, Marketing and advertising is no exception due to its vast reach and its ability to influence others.
For an industry whose reputation often suffers, I think it’s great to have a laugh at ourselves, and programs like Gruen Planet certainly offers this. I just think when we start making generalisations about what we are and what we do, we need to be very careful about the words used and the meanings attached to these, especially when it comes to our ethics.
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