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Advertising and Ethics

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Sounds pretty basic. Except it isn't. There are dos and don'ts in advertising. Or there should be. Advertising is not just about selling products or services; it's also about molding opinions on issues and creating better civic awareness among masses, among other things. Remember the advertisements telling you about the precautions to be taken to avoid dengue fever? The advertisement telling the viewer how AIDS spreads and ways to avoid it? Then there are advertisements that ask for donations in earthquakes and floods.

There are (sigh) advertisements that are singularly in bad taste. An article titled, "Commercials: Bad taste, good advertisement?'  in The Independent UK, published 14th June 2012, gives a prime example of bad taste in advertising: "a post appeared on the Facebook page for the condom manufacturer Durex, purporting to be an advertisement for its core product: an image of a woman's mouth, patched up at the corners with sticking plasters; a box of Durex XXL condoms; and the tagline 'Really Big'. In fact, the image was originally a 2007 print ad for Burger King's 'Real Big Burgers', repurposed by an internet wag in 2009 and published on the Durex page in 2012 by some tone-deaf social-media operative, who'd also commented: 'Poor woman (or maybe a lucky one?).' When the complaints started flooding in, the post was quickly removed."

Then there are advertisements that are not quite truthful. They may not be an outright lie, attributing a quality to the product it does not possess to being somewhat misleading. Hey, there's a big-time difference between pushing the truth and between outrightly making a false claim, guys. There have been cases where blurring the lines has cost an arm and a leg to the rich clients! And many a time consumers have purchased a product only to find it never offered the traits advertised. Pox on the advertisers! According to a report by Business Insider, "Dannon's popular Activia brand yogurt lured consumers into paying more for its purported nutritional benefits -- when it was actually pretty much the same as every other kind of yogurt.

"Falsely touting the 'clinically' and 'scientifically' proven nutritional benefits of the product, Dannon even got a famous spokesperson, Jamie Lee Curtis, for the supposed digestion-regulator. But after a while, some customers didn't buy it. A class action settlement last year forced Dannon to pay up to $45 million in damages to the consumers that filed the lawsuit and others who said they'd been bamboozled. The company also had to limit its health claims on its products strictly to factual ones." (Original Source ABC News.) 

Boy, do I hate the advertisements that reinforce stereotypes. Those advertisements that show the mother-in-law always as a grumpy, hard-to-please type, the daughter-in-law as the sweet, smiling angel, single-handedly cooking a feast with the un-melted make-up, not a hair out of place, freshly done dress, not a wrinkle seen--whether it's breakfast time or dinner. Give me a break for God's sake OK? Gender roles are boring. Wake up guys! We live in the 21st century. Men like to cook. Actually men who cook are sexy. They use face washes and clean their under arms. Get real please!

While we are at it, STOP selling to kids. I hate tiny tots whining at supermarkets and dragging over the floor wanting to buy something ridiculous like sanitary napkins for a cheap, free treat. The mum shushing them, probably a granny who doesn't get her periods anymore.

Advertisement needs to be fun, sell yes, but please don't bore or clown me into buying. Can we have more of that new batch of U-phone advertisements they run on the local channels? Great ones. They tell you what the product is, advantages or USPs as we call them.  (Unique selling point.) The concept of a group of workers going to a rich landlord all het up and wanting an answer to injustices is not only a social and political comment but links the   U-phone  beautifully to the theme, as we say in advertising, 'bringing it together.' The setting, the dresses, the dialogue all a master stroke. This particular advertisement based on  'Jawab Doh'  (give an answer) released in 2014 is mind-blowing!

Ethics in advertising is about lightly teaching the consumers some civic sense--nudging them ever so gently in the right direction. Taking greater responsibility not only for their actions but also for the environment. Remember the Tetra Pack advertisement many years ago, educating people as to why packaged good is good? Another brilliant advertisement in year 2014 is by Habib Bank Limited. Introducing the Fuel Card, the commercial shows a couple driving while facing the wrong side of the traffic. The traffic warden stops them.  (Great projection here HBL; breaking the stereotyping of the negative image of the police.) As they argue a voiceover  says words to the effect that the right way to save fuel is NOT to go the wrong way of the road in order to make a short cut but to get yourself a Fuel Card. The advertisement tells the viewer that on HBL Fuel Card monthly savings is up to Rs 2000/--by driving in to any fuel station in Pakistan. A driver is shown at a petrol station and proudly says, 'Yeh Hai Bachat ka Right Way' (This is the right way to save). 

The idea was simple yet brilliant. How many times each one of us has taken the wrong turns knowing full well the damn street is either a one way or when we take a turn from a place we are not supposed to turn, we increase the chances of possible hurt in such cases by breaking traffic rules. Here is HBL trying to drive some civic sense in our thick heads, telling us hey you! Stop! If you really, really want to save on fuel get yourself an HBL Fuel Card. OK guys thumbs up, I love the concept intertwined with being an organization that acts socially responsible. That's super-cool! I mean, the damn advertisement was so convincing it made me go to a branch of their bank to get more information and a Fuel Card made for me. That's the power of advertisement for you!

David Ogilvy Mather, the guru of advertising, said, "The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife" (Confessions of an Advertising Man). 

Yeah  true. Cut out the crap when you make one. Let it not stink!

The writer is former Advertising & Sales Promotion Manager for Coca-Cola South West Asia region. She is also a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan. She tweets at @yasmeen_9


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