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Opening the ethical debates in advertising

We’ve suggested elsewhere that there are two broad categories of response to Common Cause.

The first is to focus on the implications for the campaigns and communications that we are already producing: how might we campaign on biodiversity conservation, or disability rights, or cancer research, while simultaneously helping to strengthen those values upon which systemic concern about these issues must come to be built?

The second is to ask: what might we begin to do collectively, across the third sector, to strengthen the cultural importance of intrinsic values and reduce the pervasiveness of extrinsic values? Here there are many opportunities for new joint campaigns. One of the most obvious – but it is only one – is on advertising.

There is persuasive evidence that advertising serves to reinforce the cultural importance of extrinsic values – and to undermine the importance that we place on intrinsic values. As such, it will operate to reduce public concern about a wide range of social and environmental issues. This is an effect which is likely to be further strengthened by the fact that advertising is so pervasive – we literally can’t avoid it; and by the fact that much of it is targeted at children – people who are likely to be more vulnerable to its influence on values.

PIRC and WWF-UK have today launched a report highlighting the evidence for the cultural impacts of advertising. George Monbiot has written about it here. And you can download the report below.

We’ll now be hosting a conversation – with people from the third sector and business alike – on the cultural impacts of advertising and possible responses. Do get in touch if you would like to be involved in this!

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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Tom Crompton

About Tom Crompton

I'm Change Strategist at WWF-UK. For five years I headed WWF-International's Trade and Investment Programme (working on World Trade Organization issues, for example). While I was (and still am) convinced that international trade policy is crucially important in sustainability terms, I was frustrated by the glacial pace of change on this agenda - and the fact that even those trade negotiators I got to know who were personally quite 'radical' nonetheless felt impotent in a system where there was so little political space to pursue the changes that are needed. This led me to ask how organisations like WWF might begin to work to help create the political space for more ambitious change. What leads to more vocal expressions of public concern about sustainability issues? What motivates people to bring more pressure to bear on their elected leaders? These questions led to work with social psychologists and political scientists, and the publication of a series of reports: "Weathercocks and Signposts: the environment movement at a crossroads" (2008); "Simple and Painless? The limitations of spillover in environmental campaigning" (with John Thogersen, 2008), and "Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity" (with Tim Kasser, 2009). These pieces of work culminated naturally in our new report, "Common Cause".