Ad Ethics in the Digital Age: Too Far Gone?

Ad Ethics in the Digital Age: Too Far Gone?

I am not one who believes that advertising is evil. Do I feel that boundaries can be crossed and should be handled accordingly by governing bodies? Of course. However, as a marketer in the digital age, I believe it is becoming increasingly challenging to market to an audience and receive meaningful engagement in return. Not only is it proven that traditional ads just don’t have impact with the millennial market, oversaturation of ads on nearly every communication platform has lead to serious advertising blindness. This leaves advertisers with few options, forcing them to play dirty to get on the radar of possible consumers.

Morality Isn’t an Ad Problem – It’s a Society Problem

Many parent organizations have taken issue with racy or inappropriate advertising. While I understand that more wholesome tactics could be used to sell products, the moral compass of our children is no more threatened by a suggestive one-page ad than it is by one episode of Shameless or having the internet at their fingertips. We are a materialistic society that enjoys smutty television and crass language, so extreme censorship will only do so much.

This is not to say, however, that advertising couldn’t be a good arena in which to set a positive example. Rampant sexism and objectification has persisted in the marketing world for more than a century. Advertisers continually create content displaying damaging gender roles because people buy into it – and people buy into it because it is what they see and know. However, we need to stop playing into this chicken or egg scenario. After years of climbing childhood obesity rates, agencies like the World Health Organization are finally taking measures to prevent junk food ads from being targeted towards children. Hopefully, much like in the United Kingdom, we will see similar regulations applied to gender stereotyping in advertising to use the same level of care with our children’s emotional health as we do to the physical.

What Advertisers Can Do to Stand Out

One bright spot in the advertising world is seeing the uptick in cause marketing and companies taking stances on social justice issues in their ads. While it is generally suggested to avoid political views in advertising in order to not isolate part of your market, companies are using ads as a way to stand out and share their brand ethics. Although it received major backlash from the far right, the Coca Cola America ad not only got the company a ton of press, but it served as a positive reminder of our country’s history as a “melting pot” in these polarizing political times. I think we will continue to see more of this in upcoming years as consumers continue to demand more insight into the values of brands they support and frankly, I welcome it.

At this point, our only other option is to make like the legendary John Prine and blow up our t.v. and throw out our paper. 🙂

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