A recent article in Ad Age, Ad Industry Battles Back Against Bad Rep, Forms Ethics Institute, really made me laugh. The very formation of this “Institute” by the American Advertising Federation (AAF) which is the Advertising Industry’s primary trade organization founded in 1905, just reinforces the ethics problems in the advertising industry. They state the reason for this organization is to:

1. Determine what matters to consumers regarding advertising ethics
2. Recognize advertisers who demonstrate high ethical standards
3. Introduce a set of guiding principles for advertising ethics and how to apply them

The reason the AAF is finally showing such concern about the image of the industry is because advertisers are more aware of the problems. Due to the economy, businesses are scrutinizing their expenses more than ever. Advertising, being one of the more begrudging expenses is getting more than its share of scrutiny. Plus, as an intangible product, advertising is ripe for dishonest practitioners.

The first goal as stated above is misleading in itself. They do not define consumer which leads you to believe the concern is over our image with the general public. The consumers of advertising are advertisers, not food shoppers. Sure, we have to convince the public to buy a product, but we are not hired by the public. So who they are really talking about is the advertiser, not the general public.

The second stated goal sounds nice. But all it will do is create some sort of award event. How about creating an internal affairs committee where dishonest advertising people can be exposed to the advertisers, excuse me, the “consumer?”

The third goal is a joke. If advertising people are not being ethical, it isn’t because they don’t know what is ethical. There are some industry specific issues that may need some guidelines like ownership rights and maybe some new issues created by new media such as social marketing. But the real reason for the sudden concern is because advertisers are tired of widespread dishonesty in the advertising industry. I am sorry, but someone finally needs to say it.

In the thirty years I have worked in this industry I have worked hard to gain the trust and confidence of my clients. But in retrospect, I have been part of the problem too. I have seen many, many instances of dishonesty and did not expose it. Why? We like to consider advertising a profession. As a profession, it is considered unprofessional to knock, or sound like you are knocking others in the profession. We also had to work with some of the less professional people in the industry. So as a practical matter we had to get along. As a result, I have looked the other way in order get the job done as best I could for my clients and not to appear unprofessional.

Today it is a new world where the advertiser is less likely to automatically assume you are just knocking the competition. That may be because advertisers today have become more aware as they scrutinize their advertising and make their advertising suppliers become more accountable.
If you’ve followed our blogs, you know we have talked about questionably ethical practices in our industry before. It is too bad the AAF can’t find a way to make it professionally acceptable and practical to expose unethical practitioners.

Running an advertising agency in Central PA and selling advertising for 30 years I have seen it from all angles. One of the main reasons for this site is to educate advertisers which include exposing unethical practices. If you would like to discuss this subject further, please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me.