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Advertising is everywhere. It pervades the media, the internet, and our public spaces. But despite its invasiveness, strikingly few question its effects on our consumption, our freedom of choice, or our cultural values.

“The truth is that marketing raises enormous ethical questions every day—at least it does if you’re doing it right…”

Rory Sutherland, former President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)

Building on earlier work prepared for Common Cause, PIRC and WWF-UK have produced a report that begins to examine these questions. Think Of Me As Evil? Opening the Ethical Debates in Advertising argues that commercial advertising may well exacerbate the social and environmental problems that we collectively confront.

The report presents evidence that advertising may increase overall consumption; that it is likely to promote and normalise a range of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.

What others are saying about this report

“This is a fascinating, clear-headed and critically important report. Reading it, I’m struck by the fact that nothing quite like it has been written before. Why not, I wonder, when this issue looms so large in our lives, and the ethical questions involved so obviously require investigation? I’m delighted that it’s been done at last, and that an urgently-needed debate can now begin.”

George Monbiot, journalist, author and campaigner

“This report shines a light onto a seldom scrutinised sector—the advertising industry. Advertising, it suggests, harms society and the planet by increasing consumerism, manipulating cultural values, and intruding into all aspects of our lives. Yet where are the civil society campaigns against it? This report, it’s to be hoped, will inspire campaigners to take up the cause as their own.”

Caroline LucasMP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

“This is the best written report on any social cause for many a year and raises all the right questions around the place and role of advertising in society.”

- Ed Mayo, Secretary-General, Co-operatives UK

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Get involved

To join the debate about the impacts of advertising and what to do about them, please email Ralph Underhill: [email protected]

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Think Of Me As Evil: Opening the ethical debates in advertising

Think Of Me As Evil: Opening the ethical debates in advertising

PIRC & WWF-UK | October 24, 2011

Published by Public Interest Research Centre and WWF-UK, this report examines the evidence that commercial advertising could exacerbate the social and environmental problems that we collectively confront.

Think Of Me As Evil? presents evidence that advertising may increase overall consumption; that it could promote and normalise a range of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.

The report calls on the advertising industry and its clients to take responsibility for demonstrating that the impacts of commercial advertising are benign, and to support precautionary measures until such time as this is demonstrated. It also calls upon civil society organisations to pay much greater attention to commercial advertising and its possible impacts in frustrating delivery on a wide range of social and environmental outcomes.

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