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!

Tom CromptonOpening the ethical debates in advertising

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  • Bris0014 - October 26, 2011 reply

    About time there was an inquiry into the PR trade. In “Hidden persuaders”, in the 1960s Vance Packard asked about the morality, of a society exploiting people’s deep-seated fears and drives, merely to boost sales. Or of a society where it is mandatory for important people – business leaders, politicians – to maintain an optimistic sunny outlook in public, regardless of reality.


  • Ed - November 3, 2011 reply

    Hi, I’ve written a partial response on the Guardian here: 

    But thanks for opening the debate – ‘Think of me as evil?’ does ask some pretty good questions that we should be answering and all in the industry should read it (even if they don’t agree with it!)



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