Truth in advertising may seem like a contradiction in terms, but in actual practice, advertisers have to operate with some demonstrable ethics or they would be run out of town. They have to tell consumers the truth–but may not tell the Whole Truth in order to present their clients in the best light.
A lot of people question the ad industry for working so hard to sell people things they don’t need. Think about it–how many things do you own without which you can honestly live? Chances are, most of your possessions are expendable, except you care about them. They add quality and texture to your life. This is the area where “Reason meets Desire,” where we are willing to expand our notion of basic needs. Our belongings help us to identify ourselves and our place in our society. Not to excuse overt consumerism, but it looks like we aren’t going to stop buying more than we need any time soon.
Companies are also known to create a need then to release a product to meet that need. Take halitosis: this medical term for bad breath was actively popularized by the makers of Listerine in its efforts to sell its product back at the turn of the 20th century. The stuff has been flying off the shelves ever since.
What about companies that claim to be motivated by social causes? 80% of people say they care if companies are aligned with social causes. Does it actively influence your decisions? How do you find out about the social causes a company takes part in? And does that sort of altruistic work offset the environmental or societal costs some products cause?
Choices you can make
You as a designer can work pro bono for good causes like charities. Some design studios make a practice of it, actually donating a percentage of time to that type of work. You don;t make money, but you can find some really interesting work.
Articles used to write this lesson:
Ethics in Advertising | Chris Moore | 2004