Sunday, 20 March 2011

Is Advertising Immoral or Unethical?

The short answer you know anyway but that wont change anything. A blog post is unlikely to prompt a vendor of materialism into questioning their value set.

Let me start with an apology. At one point a couple of years ago I was flying between Shanghai and Hong Kong as the Global Account Planning Director on a piece of Coca-cola business. I was in the air so much that one week I ate more airline food than terrestrial meals. The hard work paid off. The creative was all over the show at the first meeting, and as everyone else was too busy I managed to rewire the creative script/animation and of course presented with unusual pride and conviction and sold the ad to the client. She's now head of Coca Cola marketing and is Rob's client. Lucky for him she's no-nonsense solid Gold and a bit of thinker too. We both held similar radical Maoist ideas that I don't hold today but was shocked to hear my client echo. 

I did not come up with the idea. I only rewired it to make sense. That ad went on to increase the RTD beverage sales of that drink 73% year on year. No small volume in the fastest growing and largest market in the world. That's a fuck load of sugared water. That's a lot of apologies to Chinese kids.

Was I responsible for that? I doubt it. The idea was cute, my timing was great, resources were thin and I had total licence to make it how I thought it should be made. It was Chinese New Year (but then it was Year on Year sales) and things came together.

But I can't claim to be innocent in the entire enterprise. If I'm honest with myself it was my presentation skills that nailed a quick sign off. The lovely account manager who handed me the reigns was actually cute enough to say I was "fantastic" when we presented. I wasn't, but then it would look OKish from someone who had a ton more experience around the world at a global level, and so I was happy to do it. She was happy not to get bogged down in endless back and forth which is a serious problem with Asian clients and junior Asian account handlers. She also tipped me off that my mediocre Japanese boss was losing face around me and that I wasn't to trust him. That advice alone put 10 000 bucks in my pocket when he eventually fired me. I spent it on a watch that was subsequently stolen in that taxi back in Hong Kong. So that's Karma for you. Easy come easy go.

So I'm just as guilty as you but I have given great consideration to how brands can be part of our future. 

The answer to whether it's immoral or unethical? 

Mostly immoral and largely unethical always (as with anything) contextual. Generally speaking for a planet that is groaning at the seams ecologically it's no different than selling arms to Libya before bombing them.

It's not like I'm suggesting I'm any better than you. I'm not. But I don't mind talking about it. So how exactly do you feel?