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Sample Material from ME10 Instruction Manual

Lesson Plan (Part 2, Chapters 6-9)

Assigned Reading

Chapters 6-9.

Learning Objectives

Upon completing Part 2, students should be able to:

  1. recognize and reflect upon the increasing interjection of advertising/promotional speech into public and private spaces;
  2. recognize and reflect upon the insertion of a commercial logic into aspects of culture never intended to be traded as marketable commodities;
  3. understand the implications and impact of an advertising and media culture increasingly dominated by images rather than words, and the ethical issues arising in that image-based context;
  4. identify the implications of a media system that is supported by advertising, motivated by profit, and becoming ever more consolidated in a few corporations, as well as the ethical decisions that arise within that system in a democratic society;
  5. critically examine the values and principles that guide the advertising profession and consider avenues of invention when/if necessary.

Lecture Material

Introduction to Part 2

TELLContemporary chaos of the media world today. Before we get started, it is perhaps useful to pause for just a moment and consider the context in which we will be thinking about advertising in this section. In the United States, we live in a democratic political system and a capitalist economy. Within this institutional and structural grounding, we’ve developed into a complex consumer culture, preoccupied with material goods and the acquisition of those goods. This consumer culture is an image-based media culture in which, as Suzanna Walters tells us, “…it is surely no longer possible to understand the media as somehow ‘outside society.’” That the media system is itself commercial, that is, advertising-supported and profit-motivated, almost guarantees that commercial activities will find their way into the very crevices of everyday life. And finally, the ever-accelerating pace of science and technological advances offer seemingly infinite communication options.

TELLAdvertising as a business tool, and a vehicle of social communication. In a culture and economy grounded in capitalism and consumption, it is easy to lose track of the fact that advertising is something more than simply a business tool. Advertisers are in the business of persuading, and come to the marketplace with certain monetary motivations. The purpose of advertising is to create a favorable image of the client’s product/service or company and provide information toward the goal of increasing sales or market share. Yet, in order for advertising to work as a business tool, it must “fit” into our culture. Advertising, then, is also a vehicle of social communication. In the process of influencing our consumer choices, it teaches us values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. These are what marketing scholar Rick Pollay has called the “unintended by-products of our exhortations to buy products.”

TELL: Most critical questioning of advertising arises not in regard to its role as a strategic business tool, but in the realm of advertising’s role as a vehicle of social communication.

ASK: Why do you think this is true?

TELLA clash of world views? Communication scholar Kim Rotzoll [Rotzoll, Kim B., and James E. Haefner, Advertising in Contemporary Society: Perspectives toward Understanding, (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996)], suggested that controversies surrounding advertising are oftentimes a clash between world views. Classical Liberalism is the world view which underlies our system of representative government, our jury system, our press, and the market. The basics of this view are that individuals, operating in their own self-interest, are sovereign, rational, and competent decision-makers. This view suggests that “private gain = public good” as long as there is no concentration of power.

TELL: What Rotzoll and Haefner called a neo-liberal world view shares many assumptions with the Classical Liberal view, but suggests that times have changed; some of the assumptions are no longer viable. For example, neo-liberalist thinkers question the rationality of individual decision-making so frequently advanced by advertisers, suggesting instead that individuals might be influenced by the emotional and the symbolic rather than simply the rational (and hence, are open to manipulation).

ASK: Can you identify some current controversies that seem to be grounded in a clash of these world views?  [note: this clash is particularly apparent in controversies surrounding regulations or need for regulation in cases #24, #33, and #39]


TELLRevisiting the contemporary chaos of the media world (discussed above). Today, there is no doubt that the number of “media” is increasing; “traditional” media—TV, magazines, newspapers, etc.—have been joined by their digital counterparts on the internet, mobile media, an array of “emerging” (and evolving) media platforms, and viral videos of guerrilla efforts (often identified as “pranking”). New media platforms frequently are developed primarily as advertising vehicles. The result? Cluttered media in a world cluttered with media. A media culture largely monetized by advertising (see case #26).

TELL: The blurring of entertainment, editorial, and advertising content contributes to the commercialized landscape and has occurred in part by design. In the context of IMC—integrated marketing communication—communication messages, whether public relations, advertising, word of mouth, or corporate sponsorships are intended to be virtually indistinguishable in their persuasive intent. Categorization of efforts is increasingly difficult: is product placement advertising? entertainment? public relations? or something else altogether? The result? A creeping infringement of the commercial into public and private spaces.

TELL: Guerrilla Marketing/Advertising. Ten years ago, a writer in The New York Times noted, “anywhere the eye can see, it’s likely to see an ad.” She should see us today. According to Jay Conrad Levinson who first introduced guerrilla advertising in 1984 (see case #23), guerrilla efforts are designed to get consumers “seeing things that they aren’t used to seeing, creating something that lives in the context of what they do, but that is out of context with what they are used to.” Once, guerrilla marketing took place primarily in public spaces—parks, streets, beaches, shopping malls. As public spaces have increasingly given way to commercial interests, guerrilla efforts have become more visceral and dynamic. Today, seeking attention in a cluttered environment, marketers have become more willing it seems, to take on the risk of what they often identify as more creative, more innovative, edgier guerrilla efforts.

TELL:  Many guerrilla efforts are viewed to be good-natured and even entertaining by those involved (and often, through the reach of the internet, by millions of others around the world). Still, it is hard to overlook the deception that by definition is guerrilla marketing.

ASK:  Several guerrilla efforts are introduced in the case. Are guerrilla efforts more acceptable ethically if they are undertaken for a non-profit organization (e.g., Amnesty International) than for a commercial entity (e.g., movie, camera)? Why or why not?

TELL: Let’s switch gears a bit to talk about the title of this chapter, “The Commercialization of Everyday Life.” What does that mean? In What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel draws our attention to what he identifies as “one of the most powerful social and political tendencies of our time…the extension of markets and of market-oriented thinking to spheres of life once thought to lie beyond their reach.”

That is, commercial logic is increasingly finding its way into institutions, ideas, processes never intended to be traded as marketable commodities. We think about more and more things as if they were products.

ASK: Can you identify some institutions/processes that have been commodified, that is, invaded by a commercial logic?

LOOK FOReducation, particularly higher education where degree programs that bring in funding receive far more institutional support than those programs less likely to bring in grant dollars or partnerships with commercial entities.  Carried to the extreme this would lead to the demise of arts, music, classics, history, philosophy, etc. in favor of the so-called STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and business. Politics, where decisions between candidates are frequently based on constructed images rather than issues. Democracy, which as Stuart Ewen notes, “increasingly comes to be understood as consumer choice, and less and less about taking the process of history into our own hands.” Other examples might include: religionforeign policyjournalismarthealth care (case #24), and philanthropy (case #25).

TELL: DTC pharmaceutical advertising (case #24) initially was confined to print media; the cost of purchasing enough broadcast time to include all the information required by the FDA made television advertising prohibitively expensive. In 1997, the rules on broadcasting were relaxed. DTC pharmaceutical advertising budgets tripled in 1998 and nearly quadrupled during the following decade. The pharmaceutical industry spent an estimated $4.5 billion on DTC advertising in 2014. According to the National Institute of Health, today, DTC pharmaceutical advertising is among the most prominent type of health communication the public encounters.

TELL: As more and more consumers begin to go on-line to gather health information, seek care, and find treatment, pharmaceutical companies have taken advantage of increasing opportunities to reach consumers in more targeted ways. While DTC internet advertising spending on display ads has dropped dramatically in the last five years, those ad dollars have been channeled to search, social media, and pharmaceutical companies’ own websites.

TELL: As the case points out, arguments in favor and those against DTC pharmaceutical advertising are fairly evenly balanced, and both sides can be supported by evidence. The same is true in discussions related to DTC pharmaceutical advertising and drug prices. In calling for a ban on DTC television advertising, the American Medical Association suggested that those ads were driving up demand for expensive treatments. Still, there is little consistent evidence that the AMA has it right; some suggest a ban might do more harm than good. Advertising may provide valuable education and awareness of life-saving drugs both to consumers and to health care professionals. Some critics even go so far as to suggest that Gilead Sciences is negligent in not advertising Truvada

TELL: Internet and social media introduce situations not previously encountered and open up a new frontier of interactions between advertisers and actual or potential customers. A 2015 episode involving Kim Kardashian’s drug-promoting Instagram selfie (oops! She forgot to tell her followers she’d been paid to promote the morning-sickness pill Diclegis.) highlights the challenges faced by the FDA as it attempts to monitor advertising in the new communication platforms.

TELL:  Another concern arises out of the recognition that advertising images enter into the patients’ and doctors’ understandings of health, well-being, sickness, medicine, and the very nature and trust of the patient/doctor relationship.

Jonathan Metzl, psychiatrist, Vanderbilt professor, and author of Prozac on the Couch (2003) has suggested:

Advertisements connect prescription medications with assumptions about what it means to be a normal man, woman, black person, white person, lover, worker, or a host of other abstract, protean roles in U.S. society. By doing so, the advertisements promote information not only about drugs, but also about the social contexts in which medications accrue symbolic meanings, that, one might well surmise, play out in clinical contexts.

ASK: Spend some time reflecting carefully on the images we see in DTC pharmaceutical ads. What do we learn about society? Illness and who gets ill? The place of various groups in society? What it means to be well? To be ill? The manner in which people live their lives and what they value?

TELL: Then too, it is important to note that the money spent on advertising to consumers is but a small percentage of pharmaceutical companies’ marketing costs. In 2012, the industry spent $3 billion advertising to consumers and $24 billion marketing to health care professionals (personal representatives—detailing, physician meetings and events, sampling, and advertising in medical journals).

TELL: Images used in advertising to doctors and healthcare professionals (DTCP) also work to construct doctors’ impressions, and some suggest, influence their prescription patterns.

Pharmaceutical advertisers need be particularly conscious of images used in cases of pathologies which lack visual manifestations such as mental illness. In those instances, advertisers must quite literally imagine mental illness. That is, they must choose images that make the mental illness visible. Again, images suggest who gets ill, what it means to be well, and what it means to be ill.

TELL: Another persistent, though perhaps, more subtle concern, is the manner in which DTC pharmaceutical advertising has introduced a commercial logic into the doctor/patient relationship That issue underlies virtually every discussion of  DTC advertising, and is at the heart of many questions raised in case #24 which examines the relationship between marketing, availability, and prescription practices for Truvada.

TELL: The “interjection of a decidedly corporate ethos into our everyday lives,” has come about casually, but consistently, and has largely gone unexamined and unquestioned. Harvard professor Michael Sandel notes We have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.”

TELL: Corporate philanthropy (case #25) is an arena that has increasingly become commodified. Few would challenge the beneficence of corporate philanthropy, and yet, some argue that corporate philanthropy in the form of cause-related marketing (CRM) introduces the specter of commercialism to an arena into which it was never intended.

ASK: What is cause-related marketing? What distinguishes it from other forms of corporate philanthropy?

ANS: In contrast to straight-forward giving, cause-related marketing is a corporate social initiative where the “donation” is dependent on consumer participation in any number of forms.

Consumers do their part by participating in socially sanctioned consumption. Research has shown that millennials—an all-important audience sought by advertisers—are especially fervent in their support of CSR and environmental efforts.  Nine out of ten (91%) would switch brands to one associated with a cause, and two-thirds use social media to engage around Corporate Social Responsibility (2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study).

TELL: CRM transforms corporate philanthropy from giving as an obligation to giving as a strategy, and alters the nature of the relationship between corporate donor and cause into something more closely resembling buyer and seller. That is, much as consumers shop for products, corporations enter the cause marketplace with particular corporate needs in place—seeking corporate benefits (e.g., target market, contribution to reputation/image). Causes seeking corporate dollars “package” themselves in ways that corporations will find most appealing; they essentially become brands in an increasingly cluttered, competitive, cause marketplace.

TELL:  Globalization driven by international trade and made possible in part by information technology has opened up new CRM opportunities. Developmental non-profit organizations (NPOs) have turned to CRM to diversity their revenue streams and take advantage of corporations’ communication expertise and reach. Global connectivity has increased the ability of marketers to create CMR efforts joining consumers with distant “others” whom consumers know little about beyond what they are told by marketers.

TELL:  Globalization adds to the complexity of the CRM process. The concerns surrounding CRM remain, and in some cases are amplified in global developmental efforts:

  • The duration of the campaigns vary, typically relative not to the needs of the NPO but to the strategic needs of the corporate sponsor.
  • Marketers are more likely to undertake CRM efforts related to specific causes (e.g., water, health, education) rather than those providing organizational support because consumers can identify precisely what their dollars are supporting. This “restricted funding” limits the NPO’s ability to use the money as needed to achieve programmatic goals (though it adds transparency).
  • The focus on some causes over others (and some regions over others) is determined by the strategic needs of marketers. The result? More CRM efforts are directed to large non-profits doing non-controversial things. As one communication analyst noted: “There are no corporations who want to have anything to do with [controversial, political] stuff that might turn people off.”

DISCUSS: This reformulation of corporate philanthropy can have both short-term and long-term political and economic impacts and cultural implications, in addition to redefining activism in fundamental ways. Let’s talk about our comfort level with these efforts.

TELL: Today, the digital revolution is transforming virtually every aspect of our lives and culture. As technology is put to work in the employ of commercial enterprises, new dilemmas arise at an accelerated pace. One dimension of everyday life that has been commodified in this process is individual privacy. Much as reality programming broke down the distinction between what is public and viewable and what is private and closed to outside viewing (and did so for money), so too has behavioral targeting commodified individual privacy.

Behavioral tracking, the collection and interpretation of data resulting from our on-line browsing, is necessary for monetization of the internet. A number of ethical dilemmas related to privacy, but also to the accompanying values of trust and respect revolve around behavioral targeting. Escalating use of behavioral tracking and big data analytics has led to persistent and contentious debate.

TELL: We very likely realize that each of our internet actions provides data (the accumulation of which has been termed “big data”) which are sold to third parties and combined with demographic and purchase [big] data to create our digital footprint so that marketers can deliver advertising targeted to our particular interests. Still, despite our understanding, on cannot help but ask: do we incorporate that knowledge every time we chat with a friend, order a book, or “like” a “hilarious video” on YouTube?

TELL: Case #26 asks us to consider just how far we will go to deliver commercial messages. When does our fascination with media technology end up contributing to something more than we are comfortable with?

The question posed in the case is: Are the teens that become “validated” and “empowered” by their social media popularity aware that they are tools of the internet marketing machine? As Rushkoff notes in the case, “if you’re doing it transparently and openly and authentically, this is not evil. This is life.” What do you think? Is this evil or is this just life in our media culture?

After viewing “Generation Like,” a blogger wrote: Is this really social media’s promise of self-determination? Promoting movies in exchange for virtual prizes? Playing the class clown in public to get free skateboard gear? Expressing your identity through junk food advertisements? Can kids really win when they don’t make the rules? (Vialogue, 03/2/2014)

(NOTE: “Generation Like” as well as Ruskoff’s 2001 documentary, “Merchants of Cool,” are available on the Media Ethics website.)


TELL: Let’s begin by introducing/reviewing several important concepts that will enter into our discussion of this chapter

TELL: The first is media culture. This is not two separate concepts—media and culture—but a single concept that suggests that the relationship between media and culture is so intimate that for many, media have become culture. That is, media and culture are so intertwined that they’ve become copies of each other. It’s difficult to tell where culture begins and media end.

Here’s an example to illustrate. In a 2001 PBS Frontline  documentary, “Merchants of Cool,”  [a precursor to “Generation Like,” the documentary discussed in the previous chapter (case #26) ] media critic Douglas Rushkoff investigates marketers’ efforts to reach teenagers. He poses the question: “are [marketers] simply reflecting teen desires or have they begun to manufacturer those desires in a bid to secure this lucrative [teen] market?”

That documentary concludes that the answer is increasingly hard to make out. “It’s a giant feedback loop. Media watches kids and then sells them an image of themselves. And then kids watch these images and aspire to be that . And media is there watching them do that in order to craft new images.” (“Merchants of Cool,”) That is, the media and audiences [in this case, teens] are in a symbiotic relationship; each looks to the other for their identity.

TELL: Our media culture is image-based. As the quotation which opens this chapter suggests, our lives are saturated with images. The development of internet technology has made the constant delivery of new and exciting images commonplace. A large percentage of the world’s population carries a smartphone/camera—and hence the ability to create images—with them almost constantly.

DISCUSS: Susan Sontag, an American writer and activist, noted that: “Knowing a great deal about what is in the world through photographic images, people are frequently disappointed, surprised, unmoved when they see the real thing.”

Let’s think about images, then, not merely the content of images, but what it means to communicate through images. How do images structure the way we think about the world? (“The Image Culture,” by Christine Rosen is an excellent article to use when developing your thoughts on image-based culture.)

TELL: Advertising in an image-based culture. Historically, advertising was informational both in intent and in content. Initially advertising primarily told consumers what products were available and where. Later, as production capacity increased, national markets, media, and distribution channels developed; products were differentiated through packaging, branding, and advertising. Advertising assumed a different character. It became focused on emotions and images, talking less about the products per sé and more about benefits and the social life of those buying the products. And, frequently in doing so, advertising turned to images.

TELL: Jhally (The Ad and The Ego) points out that material goods cannot provide the things we really want out of life and what we value—relationships, family, autonomy, success, power, well-being—so advertisers link those desires, creating associations between what we want and material goods. In this way, imagery is linked to the real way people live their lives. What we are left with, then, is “an endless succession of material objects…curiously floating beyond the terms of the real world.”

TELL: Recall Michael Schudson’s observation in the introduction to this chapter. He notes that the advertising world is aspirational.

The pictures of life that ads parade before consumers are familiar, scenes of life as in some sense we know it or would like to know it. Advertisements pick up and represent values already in the culture. But these values, however deep or widespread, are not the only ones people have or aspire to, and the pervasiveness of advertising makes us forget this.

Advertising picks up some of the things that people hold dear and re-presents them to people as all of what we value …

TELL: People are more easily influenced by images. Postman notes (“Consuming Images”) that images speak with a different grammar than the written word. Truth and falsity no longer apply; “we build up a whole world of imagery where basically we are out of the realm of logic and perhaps into the realm of aesthetics.”

DISCUSS: Think about advertisements or commercials you have seen (or, you might choose to view commercials as a class). What are the associations the ad makes with the product? What are the advertisers asking you to believe? What messages is the ad trying to send? What emotions does the ad appeal to? What is the “logic” behind the ad? Identify the story the ad is trying to tell. (From Close Reading of Ads—A How To Guide by Patricia Aufderheide)

TELL:  Our media culture is commercial, overburdened with advertising/promotional messages, and grounded firmly in a consumption ethic. But, an image-based culture is more than a cultural shift from text to images. In this image-based culture, individuals are constructing, negotiating, and re-negotiating their own identities, both internally and externally, largely through what they own. The identity project, that is, the construction of image, is on-going. In today’s “age of accelerated meaning” the meaning of goods is fluid and rapidly changing. (Goldman and Papson, “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning”).

TELL: Finally, let’s discuss ideology. Ideology is a complex concept; it’s one of those concepts that has a different meaning depending upon who you are talking to. For our purposes here, we might simply (that is, overly simply) say that ideology is a complex of ideas in society that dominate the way we live, the way we understand and make sense of the world and our place in it, of who has power and who is powerless, and about how things work and how they should work. Ideologies are the very ideas that hold a society together.

Ideology is embedded in symbols, institutions, and cultural practices and orients our thinking in such a way that we accept the current way of doing things as natural. As such, the power structure (that would be the status quo) remains unexamined and so, unchallenged.

[ASIDE: if you are adopting a social justice perspective, this might be a good time to point out that we are born into an ideological world through no choice of our own; many ideologies are unfair but are maintained by both the dominant and subordinate groups. Throughout this section of the text, we allude to stereotypes, the ideological work that stereotypes do, and the short distance from stereotyping to prejudice, to discrimination, to oppression. This can be a useful lesson in media literacy.]

TELL: Stuart Hall, a British cultural studies scholar, identified the media (and we might add advertising) as “peculiarly central” to the perpetuation of ideological understandings. He wrote:

What the media “produce” are, precisely, representations of the social work, images, descriptions, explanations and frames for understanding how the world is and why it works as it is said and shown to work.

TELL: Advertising and media, then, are powerful cultural teachers (among many teachers—e.g., church, school, family) in that they: provide material for identity formation; shape and reinforce particular values; provide the basis of our common culture; and articulate existing power structures.

TELL: Some critics have argued that perhaps the least important thing advertising does is influence people’s choice about purchasing products. Hence, as responsible communicators we must be particularly cognizant of the messages and values we convey, the “byproducts of our exhortations to buy products.” Advertising historian Rick Pollay called these culture messages inherent in selling messages the “unintended consequences of advertising.”

NOTE: The concept of ideology is difficult for many, and might require addition elaboration. In addition to the characteristics above, it should be emphasized that ideological work is not a conspiracy. There is no smoke-filled room; people don’t set out to objectify women or use images that denigrate particular racial groups. They simply choose images that “seem natural,” that seem to be commonsense. Ideologies are robust, but they can be changed. (This agency—the power to change—is imperative for activism.) Think, for example, of the contemporary debate over the meaning of marriage.

Then, too, while we suggest that media articulate dominant ideologies, media are not simply vehicles of the dominant; it is much more complicated. It is useful to see the media as sites of struggle were ideologies are articulated, but also worked on, transformed, elaborated. Thus, media advance the dominant, but frequently provide material that offers opportunity for resistance. Thus, to the list of characteristics of media and advertising as cultural teachers above, one might add that media provide sites where “alternative” voices can be heard

Because ideologies seem natural, they go unexamined and unquestioned until a “rupture” calls our attention to it. That rupture might be a media effort such as the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty which reminded us that the images of women to which we have become so accustomed are unattainable to most women (case #27). The rupture may also be an event which calls attention to repeated injustices (e.g., the Black Lives Matter movement began as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012).

TELL: Stereotypes do ideological work. Advertisers frequently are criticized for the persistent use of stereotypes (all cases in this chapter explicitly or implicitly relate to stereotyping (case #28 and case #30 for explicit challenges; later, case # 37 deals with target marketing as stereotyping)  Stereotypes are used in everyday interactions, and the word “stereotype” is widely used in day-to-day conversation. We tend to assume a common understanding of stereotypes as generalizations about social groups—characteristics that are attributed to all members of a given group without regard to variations that exist among members of that group. Here, then, stereotypes are characterized as little more than a system of classification, clumsy, at best, but benign.

TELL: The definition is accurate, but overlooks a key dimension: power.  Let’s look at what Walter Lippmann said about stereotypes in his classic book, Public Opinion:

A pattern of stereotypes is not neutral. It is not merely a way of substituting order for the great blooming, buzzing confusion of reality. It is not merely a short cut. It is all these things and something more. It is the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world of our own sense of our own value, our own position and our own rights. The stereotypes are, therefore, highly charged with the feelings that are attached to them. They are the fortress of our tradition, and behind its defenses we can continue to feel ourselves safe in the position we occupy.

TELL: Hazel Carby, an African American Studies scholar, noted: The objective of stereotypes is “not to reflect or represent a reality but to function as a disguise, or mystification of objective social relations.”

TELL: These two scholars call our attention to the fact that stereotypes do ideological work in our culture. What does this mean? Stereotypes are not neutral, they have valence. In Lippmann’s words, they are “highly charged with feelings.” They have definitional power; they help us understand our position in the world as well as that of others. They reinforce the status quo because they seem natural; they are commonsense. This normalization camouflages their constructedness, draws attention away from structural issues, and contributes to stereotypes’ persistence. We use stereotypes almost without thought because they are comfortable. Aunt Jemima wasn’t selected as an icon for pancake mix because marketers want to oppress black women; marketers simply wanted to sell pancakes.

ASK: What stereotypes are common in media?

LOOK FOR: minorities, women, men, able-bodiedness, foreign-born (e.g., Italians are in the mafia, Muslims are terrorists), elderly, religious, gays, class, age. Probe to encourage students to reflect on more than the visual images. Can they arrive at the “ideological work” being done by these stereotypes?

TELL:  When talking about stereotypes in advertising imagery, we frequently talk about the easy to spot, obvious stereotypical representations: the religious zealot, the inept “man of the house” trying unsuccessfully to soothe a crying baby, the bikini-clad woman washing a car as she bites into a hamburger. Other stereotypes, however, are more subtle, and perhaps, more insidious, less easily recognized or dismissed due to their subtlety. Who pours the juice at the breakfast table? Which is the “naughty” child in a group of children? Why do disabled individuals appear so rarely?

TELL: Then too, stereotypes are perpetuated through repetition. Case #27 focuses on the persistent appearance of an unattainable ideal feminine beauty. This stereotype is common not only in advertising but in media more generally, on fashion runways, in a variety of social contexts, and even in textbooks.

ASK: What, if any, is the real harm resulting from stereotypical representations in ads?

LOOK FOR: Expect such answers as: prejudice, hate, offensiveness, hurtful, socially irresponsible. NOTE: “socially irresponsible” seems to assume the media should be pro-social, should mold and shape public attitude in particular ways rather than merely reflect it. Of course, the question then becomes, who decides how the public attitude should be shaped?

This might be a good time to return to a comment made earlier, suggesting that it is a short distance from stereotyping to oppression. That is: when we assign value to stereotypes they become prejudice; when we act on that prejudice it becomes discrimination; adding historical, social, institutional power to discrimination results in oppression.

TELL: It should be noted that our  ideas about groups of people are based on a variety of interactions—with people in those groups, through experiences, family and friends, etc. The media—both news and entertainment programming—and other elements of popular culture, as well as advertising are but pieces of a larger composite.

TELL: Turning now more specifically to the case (#27)… in advertising, criticisms of gender and racial stereotypes have been some of the most persistent. In the 1970s, reflecting concerns raised by the women’s movement, researchers focused on images of women in advertising and found that:

  • women appeared in limited roles
  • women were depicted as dependent on men
  • women were unable to make important decisions
  • women were depicted as sex objects

That is, women were depicted in stereotypical ways. These findings were so consistent yet so persistently viewed as going unheeded by the industry, that for all intents and purposes, researchers stopped doing this type of “image research.” Stereotypical portrayals were almost a given.

TELL: A different group of concerns began to emerge in the 80s. Critics focused not primarily on stereotypes, but on objectification and violence; trivialization of women’s concerns; commodification; images of powerlessness and passivity; misogyny; hypersexuality; and unattainable images of ideal beauty.

In recent years, society’s obsession with ideal beauty and the resulting emphasis on the physical has overwhelmed other concerns; unattainable female beauty itself has become a kind of stereotype. In this environment, the body becomes an instrument through which women construct their feminine identity, a project to be worked on with the aid of commodities offering ever-more-impossible results, and indeed, all too frequently, an enemy. (case #27)

ASK: Do you think advertising unfairly has been called to answer for a problem, unrealistic images of women and girls, that is clearly embedded in culture? That is, has advertising become a scapegoat for a far larger social problem?

NOTE: You might want to present this series of comments from scholars as well as the popular press as a starting point for discussion:

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. …she has to survey everything she is and does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of critical importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life…men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. (John Berger, Ways of Seeing)

[In our culture], normalization establishes a pathology of the body—quite simply, some bodies are identified as normal…others are labeled abnormal, pathological bodies in need of repair. (Scott A. Lukas)

For any woman, being beautiful is a complex business—if one is to be beautiful successfully—and like any business it requires vigilance, calculation, periodic inventories, and a cool head. (Suzanne Berne, “Truth and Beauty,” Vogue, February 2008)

How Not to Look Old (2008) began a trend of rebranding aging from biological inevitability to outmoded lifestyle option. At the time it was introduced The New York Times reviewed the book calling it “the latest makeover title to treat the aging of one’s exterior as a disease whose symptoms are to be fought to the death or, at least mightily camouflaged.” The review continued: “…the book offers a serious rationale for … vigilant attempts at age control, arguing that trying to pass for younger is not so much a matter of sexual allure as of job security” (NYT, January 24, 2008.) “…Looking hip is not just about vanity anymore, it’s critical to every woman’s personal and financial survival.” (book jacket, How Not to Look Old). The book has been revised regularly, and was followed by another book, How to Never Look Fat Again (2011).

TELL: Advertisers respond to criticism regarding unattainable ideals by noting that advertising is only a reflection of existing cultural values celebrating youth and beauty. (That would be the mirror side of the mirror/shaper debate.) While advertising perpetuates a standard that exists only within the framework of ads, advertising is intended to be aspirational. That’s how it works.

ASK: Should advertising be held responsible for consequences associated with promoting an unattainable ideal? (NOTE: This is a question with far-reaching ramifications. If advertising should be responsible for associated consequences, what then for fast food? sugary drinks? alcohol?)

ASK: How might advertisers responsibly confront this dilemma?

NOTE: The case discussion provides a number of possibilities on page 185 that might provide a starting point to discussion.

TELL: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (2004-5) was touted as a social advocacy campaign to challenge the one-dimensional view of beauty that appears to have become a cultural standard. That is, Dove attempted to challenge something to which we have become so accustomed that we rarely blink an eye when confronted by yet another image of youthful, unattainable beauty—a standard that clearly does ideological work.

TELL: The Real Beauty campaign also challenged, in some sense, the aspirational approach inherent in much of advertising—the dream world, the magic kingdom that is advertising. One practitioner defending advertising images noted, “if we showed what really went on, people would be discouraged … they see that everyday.”

ASK: What are your reactions to this observation? How do you believe individuals manage the images of unreality in advertising?

ASK: Are consumers (and perhaps culture) more comfortable with the images of perfection than they are with images that “really show what’s going on?” If so, what are the implications?

ASIDE: While case #27 is focused on the unattainable ideal, an equally engaging question might be the ethicality of photo-manipulation more generally and how technology influences not only the creation/manipulation of images, but also audience expectations and perceptions of “truth” and truthfulness.

The following sidebar examines a related concern: the sexualization of ever-younger girls. The discussion relates to a case from the previous edition of this text, “‘She’s only 4!’ The Hypersexualization of Young Girls.” (The case is available in the Media Ethics 9th edition archive.)


SIDEBAR: The Hypersexualization of Girls

TELL: “Sex sells,” has become something of a cliché in both the advertising profession and the public perception of advertising and marketing.  An industry commentator observed that, “The use of sexually suggestive images to sell just about everything really emphasizes the point that sex is a merchandiser’s best friend.”

TELL: Unattainable beauty and youth, then, are key components of the female “ideal” in advertising, in media, and more generally, in society. Another seemingly inescapable component of that ideal is sexuality. Commenting on this trend, one blogger recently noted, “You can’t turn on the TV or pick up a magazine today without being pelted with sexual innuendos on the most common or mundane items consumers may buy.”

TELL: Why is this so? In today’s cluttered media environment, simply getting a consumer’s attention is a feat of some magnitude.  Sexual imagery is one of the most commonly used (and successful) strategies for the simple reason that those images grab attention  and can lead some consumers to think more positively about the product message and the product.

TELL: The perception (and the reality?) that the creation of a beauty ideal has found its way into products and messages targeting girls who may be too young to distinguish between the world depicted in advertising and media images and the reality of their own worlds is particularly troubling. Questions about advertising’s impact on young girls’ self-esteem and eating disorders are commonplace. The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls suggested that a strong connection exists between young girls who have to endure a premature emphasis on sex and appearance and eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.

TELL: Still, the hypersexualization of young girls has become something of a cultural phenomenon. In The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild (2010), Susan Douglas identifies teen girls as a “delectable demographic,” noting that marketers in the 1990s “began targeting teenage girls with intensity.” Using an “age compression” strategy, marketers increasingly are targeting products once meant for older girls to younger and younger girls, often using highly sexualized images.

ASK: While marketers have every right to advertise their products and to persuade in the process of doing so, do you believe that advertising and promotional efforts employing the philosophy and imagery of “age compression” and the resultant sexual imagery are appropriate? Socially responsible? Why or why not?


TELL: Returning to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, some critics have challenged the Dove ads (and continue to do so with Dove’s more recent additions to the campaign) for insincerity, suggesting that they simply use “social advocacy as a selling strategy,” and thus, reinforce the very standard they claim to negate. Critics ask: can you really believe in the sincerity of the Campaign for Real Beauty? As one noted, “a new shade of lipstick on the same old pig.”

ASK: What do you think? Are these brands co-opting a broader social agenda as a selling strategy? If so, is their effort ethical? Is it possible for a campaign to be social advocacy and marketing? Why or why not?

NOTE:  Femvertising, advertising that challenges gender norms through stereotype-busting messages has taken its lead from Dove. Embracing and celebrating “girl power,” this strategy has been touted as “making a difference both to the way women feel about themselves and companies’ bottom lines” (Huffington Post, 10-3-14). (case #29)

NOTE: The following sidebar offers some additional observations on the concept of gender and might be useful in discussion re: images of women and girls. It reminds us that given the binary nature of our perception of gender, each time we say something about women, we simultaneously are implicitly saying something about men and vice versa.


SIDEBAR: Thinking about Gender

TELL: Our culture has invested biological sex with particular social significance. As feminist Sandra Bartky noted. “We are born male or female, but not masculine or feminine.” This suggests that we have ascribed a whole constellation of attributes around being a man and being a woman. We call these masculinity and femininity.

NOTE: The recognition that masculinity and femininity are social constructions is important. Recognized as such (rather than as biological, innate), these constructions are malleable; they can be altered.

TELL: Gender in our culture is constructed as a binary concept. That is, masculinity and femininity are a forced dichotomy. They are opposites and relational in the sense that they are understood more profoundly relative to each other. As a result, each time we say something about women, we simultaneously are implicitly saying something about men and vice versa.

ASK: What this suggests is that while conversations often focus on constructions of women and femininity, they might also be viewed as suggesting qualities of men and masculinity. So, we might ask:

  • In constructing an unattainable ideal of female beauty, what are we suggesting about men and masculinity?
  • what understanding do we draw about young men and adolescent boys in light of the persistent portrayal of “sexy [and beautiful] little girls”?
  • what understanding might we draw about men and masculinity in Dove’s challenge to the cultural standard of beauty?


TELL: Now that we’ve discussed the ethicality of the advertising (and associated) industry’s persistent emphasis on an ideal beauty and physical perfection unattainable to most, let’s consider advertising images from another perspective, that of the disabled. Real beauty does not seem to include visibly disabled bodies.

In his blog, “Disability and the Advertising Industry,” Joshua Loeber, a disability activist, himself disabled since birth, redirects our attention to the power of images, asking: “When image is everything, where does disability fit in?”

ASK: What was the most recent ad you’ve seen that includes someone disabled?

NOTE: Efforts to include the people with disabilities (NOTE: people with disabilities v. disabled people, an important distinction) in advertising have been increasing, but at the time of this writing have not become commonplace. Loeber’s blog includes a number of noteworthy efforts, among them Burger King and Honey Maid grahams.

Tim Cox, writing in noted:The disabled are so ignored that when the disabled are included in any form of advertising, it is still considered a newsworthy story for a magazine like Ad Age to write about.”

TELL: What are the consequences of the invisibility of the disabled in advertising? (case #29), To the degree that advertisers deliberately or unconsciously exclude the disabled, advertising is discriminatory. Let’s examine some of the implications of this discrimination. (This might be a good time to once again, remind students of advertising’s role as a cultural teacher and the power of images.)

  • Denial of the status of disability and disability culture.
  • Because advertising is a visual medium, requiring “clues” to suggest disability, portrayals of the disabled tend to focus on people in wheelchairs or people who are deaf, a very distorted view of the estimated 10% of the population that is disabled.
  • Charities in particular are often guilty of presenting a distorted view of the disabled with the goal of raising money. These efforts can serve to perpetuate the impression that people with disabilities are not self-sufficient and need to be supported by charitable organizations.
  • Advertisers sometimes emphasize the “courage and bravery” of the disabled in ways that serve to emphasize their abnormality and reinforce visions of the disabled as inadequate.

: Meryl’s realization (case #29) that she had never considered the disabled when creating ads begs the question, “why?” Her subsequent recognition that “representation of the disabled is complicated,” seems to rest on the fear of exploiting the disabled (doing more harm than good) or of being viewed as exploiting the disabled in any advertising effort that isn’t a fund-raising effort. This perspective is founded on the mistaken belief that individuals with disabilities need to be “looked after,” that they are unable to look after themselves.

Some have suggested another fear grounded in a culture of perfection: to deny the disabled equality in representation is another way to ignore the fact that perfection is not a reality and that anyone is susceptible to becoming disabled. Then too, another more pragmatic concern might be that if disabled models are used too frequently, an unintended identification with the brand (brand equity) may be created. What might be some other reasons?

ASK: What can advertising do to help improve the images of the disabled in advertising? How might advertisers go about that process?

LOOK FOR (in addition to the stereotypes-to-be-avoided identified in the case): learning about disability from the disabled, featuring disabled individuals as equals instead of excluded victims, showing the disabled in everyday situations rather than in situations especially associated with disability. Two excellent discussions which provided the basis of the discussion here are:, and

The following quote taken from the discussion above ties cases #28 and #29 together in a thought-provoking manner:

Society must look past sympathy to empathy to learn about pain, limitations, and loss of abilities to have less fear about disabilities and not see them as devalued but as accepting the body beyond skin deep. Once accepted, the disabled can be a reminder to society that perfection is the thing that is not “normal” but is an imaginative fairy tale that oppresses everyone, non-disabled and disabled alike.

TELL: Shocking Advertising; Shockvertising.The last two cases in this chapter (cases #29, #30) are classic examples of “shockvertising,” advertising that deliberately startles or offends audiences by violating norms, social values or personal ideals. The intention of shockvertising is to be controversial, disturbing, explicit, and provocative in order to break the monotony of the “normal,” to challenge conventional understanding. In short, the goal of shockvertising is to get attention.

Shockvertising is common practice among social movements which often lack the financial resources for paid advertising campaigns and rely on news coverage to “get their word out.” Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA has noted that “extremism and outrage provide the fundamental fuel for many special interest groups.”  (“Animal Rights: Responsible Images” examined PETA’s use of this strategy. It is available in the Media Ethics 9th edition archive.)

TELL: In the discussion of case#27, we noted that Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and its associated viral videos were designed to challenge the widely accepted, unrealistic standards of female beauty. Although the campaign drew (and continues to draw) positive accolades from women around the world, and has led to substantial sales increases, the campaign has not been without criticism.  Many question the sincerity of Dove’s social advocacy, calling it little more than a sales strategy.

Nonetheless, the Dove campaign is said to have been the beginning of what we now call “femvertising,” a seeming explosion of ads challenging gender norms and stereotypes. Claire Cohen, writing in The Guardian summarized the phenomenon this way:

Welcome to the world of femvertising: where the hard sell has been ‘pinkwashed’ and replaced by something resembling a social conscience, and where advertisers are falling over each other to climb on board the feminist bandwagon.” … Femvertising is now big business – but is that something to ‘celebrate’?

NOTE: Pinkwashing is a marketing strategy aimed at promoting a product by associating the product with a social cause. It originated in the context of breast cancer cause marketing to identify products that utilized the “pink ribbon” to associate with breast cancer awareness while producing products that contained ingredients linked to cancer. (see also “greenwashing”)

TELL: Case #29 raises a complex set of ethical dilemmas (can the class identify some of them?) Let’s talk about some of those dilemmas

TELL: Like Dove before it, FCKH8 raises the very basic question of the ethicality of co-opting a social advocacy movement as a selling strategy for a commercial product. [do you need to further clarify the term co-optation?] In this process, many argue, the transformational spirit of the original movement/cause is lost; the promise of social change is diluted.

FCKH8 adds another layer of cooptation in the sense that this effort appropriates, and indeed, parodies femvertising, which, despite the concerns discussed, has been applauded by some for its messages of empowerment, and its ability to increase awareness of social issues. Laden as it is with vulgar language, exploitation, and intention to offend, FCKH8 “Potty-mouth Princesses” diminishes the value and very likely the effectiveness of all femvertising. Judging from some of the responses discussed in the case, perception of the “cause” FCKH8 purports to be supporting—typically identified broadly as being “feminists”—likewise has been called into question.

TELL: Perhaps the most glaring ethical questions are those of exploitation. Certainly one could argue that the social cause (whatever it might be) has been exploited, but what of the girls? In these scripted, well-produced videos, designed to be satirical and perhaps, humorous, has FCKH8 exploited the girls? Some say “no,” based on the fact that the girls are old enough to understand what they are saying; others believe the girls are too young to understand the implication of the adult words put into their mouths.

NOTE: the question of whether or not the girls “understand” what they are saying is one of the most contentious in discussion surrounding the video.

TELL: Then too, there is the issue of deception. There is no question but that most femvertising, at its core, is designed to facilitate commercial interests. Still, in many cases there is no explicit sales message; the objective, instead, is to create brand associations and foster a positive relationship with consumers. Not so in the case of FCKH8. As Rebecca Hains, author of The Princess Problem: Guiding our Girls through the Princess-obsessed Years, notes: “If we follow the money and consider FCKH8’s motivations in producing ‘F-Bombs for Feminism,’  it’s pretty clear that … Although the video purports to be ‘for [a] good cause’—presumably, to raise awareness of sexism—what they’re really promoting is their t-shirts.”

ASK: Assessments of the Potty-Mouth Princess videos have ranged from “brilliant,” to “disturbingly offensive,” to “offensive and vulgar, but brilliant nonetheless.” One author suggested the FCKH8 social media marketing effort was “devoid of ethics.” What do you think?

TELL: Bivins suggests that the question to be asked when considering the use of shockadvertising is: “whom are we offending and why?” Is the end so morally worthy that it mitigates the use of morally questionable means in order to achieve it?

ASK: Because FCKH8 is “promoting a social cause” (?) and purportedly donating to some “kick-ass charities,” is some extremism in their efforts acceptable?

NOTE: See, FCKH8’s “F-Bomb Princess” video isn’t offensive—it’s exploitative for a more detailed discussion of accusations against FCKH8 which call FCKH8’s motives into question and challenges the legitimacy of a number of their claims.

TELL: Let’s look at another, very different case of advertising using shocking images to get attention. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (case #30) was very upfront about their decision to use images of obese children in their advertising. Georgia has the 2nd highest obesity rate in the country and “the ads were intended to be harsh because nobody would listen if they weren’t.” That is, the question of battling the childhood obesity epidemic was viewed to be a “morally worthy” end which justified the means used.

TELL: Reflect for a moment on the portrayals and perceptions of overweight and obese individuals in the media and in culture today. Certainly images of the obese stand in sharp contrast to the images of perfection so prevalent in our media culture. Then too, attendant increases in health risks that accompany excess weight are widely discussed in news media, on internet sites; tips on “shedding those extra pounds” as well as advertisements for weight-loss programs are a staple of our media and consumer culture.

In addition to being unattractive and fraught with health risks, stereotypes of the obese suggest a wide constellation of perceived character “flaws,” among them laziness; lack of self-control; less conscientious, competent and productive; slow; unhappy; lonely; unintelligent; and comedic.

Yes, comedic! Writing for the Obesity Action Coalition, a public health professional notes that: “it seems that everywhere you turn these days, whether it be reality shows, movies, YouTube, television ads, or news reports, an obese person is being ridiculed.” The Coalition has given this combination of exploitation of the obese and entertainment a name—“fattertainment.”

ASK: Can you think of some examples from movies? television? stand-up? cartoons?

TELL: A writer in Psychology Today calls fattertainment the “last safe prejudice,” suggesting that for some reason “it’s still okay to stigmatize the overweight.” The Obesity Action Coalition points out that “very few have called foul on our culture’s fascination with fat humor.”

Why? Some suggest that society feels the overweight deserve what they get—be it laughter, humiliation, chronic illness, or limited romantic relationships—the blame for weight gain is squarely on their shoulders. It’s their fault. This, of course, ignores structural and institutional factors that contribute.

ASIDE: In sharp contrast to fattertainment, there are those who argue that while it is not uncommon to criticize smokers, or those we believe drink too much, obsess unnecessarily, or spend too much on shoes; we give obese people a free pass

TELL and ASK: It is apparent that obesity is both a problem of epidemic proportions and a sensitive social issue. With this as background, discuss the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta ads.

  • Do you agree with critics who label the ads as “fat shaming?” why/why not?
  • If you view the ads as morally questionable, was the end so morally worthy that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was justified in their use?
  • One activist noted, “The trick is figuring out how to be anti-obesity without being anti-obese people.” Any ideas?


DISCUSS: Prior to approaching the cases in this section, it might be beneficial to review the role of the press in a democracy which is likely to have been discussed in the first section of the text. Many of the cases discussed here hinge upon that foundational knowledge along with knowledge about capitalism as an economic system as well as a system of social organization. First Amendment protection for commercial speech is discussed briefly a bit later.

TELL: The structural changes and technological innovations of recent years have transformed the media world. The digital revolution has proceeded unabated; platforms have emerged; Hulu, Netflix, and even Amazon have expanded beyond distribution into creation of original content. Netflix created 320 hours of original programming in 2015. The growth in mobile has been described by one media analyst as “nothing short of epic.”  And the list goes on.

TELL: The media are commercial in two primary ways. (1) The primary source of revenue for most media is advertising. (2) In a commercially driven media system, the goal is profit maximization.

TELL: Evidence of the commercial imperatives underlying our media system have become so natural to us—advertising and commercials amid our media content, pop-up ads on websites, ads in our Facebook feed, video ads in the pre-roll to YouTube videos—that it may never occur to us that the arrangement is rather a unique one.

ASK: Let’s examine the variety of ways in which our media are supported.

  • only by audience members, that is, subscription based (e.g., HBO, Pay-Per-View)
  • through a combination of corporate “sponsorships,” government funding, and voluntary audience support (e.g., NPR, PBS)
  • by advertising and audiences (e.g., magazines, newspapers, satellite radio? cinema? cable)
  • funded entirely by advertising (e.g., broadcast).
  • Internet includes a wide variety of funding models… advertising supported, pay walls, search, subscription based, options to purchase content without advertising for a fee, etc.

: With only a few exceptions, media function as a dual-product marketplace, simultaneously selling content to audiences and audiences to advertisers. The audience is a commodity. Like any “shopper,” advertisers are looking for the “product” that offers the most benefit; they are willing to pay more for what they deem to be a “desirable” audience. It follows, then, that media create content to reach those particular audiences.

NOTE: Today, it is possible to target a “consumer of one,” (that is, to deliver individual impressions to very specific consumers that remain anonymous except through characteristics of their digital footprint) as a result of programmatic buying made possible by behavioral targeting and big data analytics. Nonetheless, even in this situation, the audience remains a commodity.

TELLWhat is the normative role of the press in a democratic society? Let’s consider this question: How does the media arrangement, that is, how does advertising as a major source of funding affect media content and the media’s role in democracy?

TELL: Media scholar and activist Robert McChesney has noted:

Even the most conscientious CEO on the planet cannot avoid the fact that his primary responsibility is to shareholders, not public audiences or the information needs of democracy.

There is a basic conflict of interest with running a business purely for profit that has so much influence on democratic debate, culture, and the social distribution of information.

NOTE: Political economists argue that industry structure and how that industry makes its money will influence the types of messages it produces and distributes. What McChesney is suggesting in the comments above is that while we have the First Amendment to protect speech from government censorship, corporate involvement may have undue influence on media content. Jhally made much the same argument in The Ad and The Ego, when he noted:

Americans have a very strange notion of freedom. Americans seem to think that if you’re free from government, that you’re free, which overlooks the fact that there can be other opponents of freedom. Like corporations who have immense power within our cultural space and that censor other voices. I think we have to now think about not only what the government shouldn’t do but about what any other large-scale organization should not be allowed to do, which is monopolize means of communication, means of cultural production which is what corporations do at the present time.

ASK: How might the fact that media shape content to attract audiences that advertisers want to reach impact the content of the media?

LOOK FOR: entertainment-orientation; news focus on popular culture icons; graphic visuals; intolerance of diversity; content tends to be in shorter formats to be read more quickly; middle-of-the-road orientation; tone and style. Again, this changes as the media revolution continues. Consider the changes brought about by apps, streaming, binge watching, etc.

TELL: As we might suspect, entire segments of the population might be denied participation in the marketplace of ideas because advertisers don’t deem them to be “desirable.” In this manner, advertisers can shape the structure of the media landscape; an advertising-supported medium with insufficient advertising support is not likely to survive long.

NOTE: The remarkable economic challenges being faced by the media in light of the decline in advertising revenues is almost a continuous conversation in today’s media chaos. [This is a good time to bring in current events/discussions.]

An Advertising Age article, “Imagine a World Without Ads,” by Simon Dumenco (9/28/2015) mentioned in case # 34, is thought provoking and can be a useful discussion starter. ASK: would students pay to use Facebook? Instagram? (whatever the latest social media might be?) If so, how much?

A classic example of media dependence on advertising revenue, though now a bit dated, is Ms. Magazine’s early (largely unsuccessful) effort to garner advertising support for that feminist publication. Gloria Steinem tells the story in “Sex, Lies, and Advertising,” an essay from the first ad-less issue of Ms. The essay is readily available through an on-line search. The article addresses the difficulty of breaking through advertisers’ stereotypes of feminists, advertisers’ demands for “complimentary copy,” and Ms. Magazines’ content changes in an effort to obtain advertiser support.

ASK: We are likely aware of advertisers’ interest in the 18-49-year-old market as evidenced by contemporary television and cable programming, magazines, and movies. Let’s think about the media landscape, the marketplace of ideas. Identify some groups that apparently are “less desirable” to advertisers. Why do you think this is so?

LOOK FOR: African-American, Native American, Asian American, low-income, elderly, rural, etc. as well as many others that might be identified based upon political leaning, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion, etc.

A 2016 article in The New York Times, provides a brief historical account of black media and the difficulties faced by black media today. The owner of a magazine for African American women noted that the challenges have arisen:

… largely because advertisers, particularly luxury brands, would rather connect with African-American consumers ‘by speaking broadly.’ I think at times there’s a feeling that they do not want to directly speak to that audience because there’s a fear of bringing down their brand perception.

Case #37 in the next chapter examines advertisers increased interest in two “markets;” the gay and lesbian market (advertisers remain more interested in gay men than in lesbians as evidenced by media available) and the Latino market. Other markets that have been identified as “desirable” are the “tween” market, and increasingly, the toddler market.

TELL: Thus far, we’ve been talking about advertisers’ power to impact media structure with their media placement decisions. We shouldn’t forget that while media need advertisers, advertisers also need media to reach audiences effectively and efficiently.

TELL: Media have the right to refuse any advertising for any reason; the medium need not specify the reason for its decision to reject (except political advertising; media are subjected to a complex set of requirements re: political advertising). Media clearance is viewed as an integral part of advertising’s regulatory mix. It has the advantage of pre-empting public exposure to ads that might be false or deceptive. However, Rotfeld has found that consumer protection from deception is not the primary concern raised in media rejection of advertising. Instead, the most common reasons for rejection are: an inappropriate “fit” with editorial content, fear of alienating the audience, and the belief that some products are objectionable to their audiences.

TELL: Case #31 identifies three instances in which paid advertising was rejected. In one instance, media rejection of a movie advertisement limited the ability of the advertiser to have a voice in the economic marketplace. The other two cases were rejection of advertising efforts by advocacy groups. As non-commercial advertising, these efforts were social speech protected by the First Amendment.

NOTE: This might be a good time, if the curriculum allows, to define commercial speech (noting that what constitutes commercial speech is becoming ever more complicated in the internet world, e.g., are “likes” commercial speech? what about comments voiced on a commercial website?) and why the distinction between commercial speech and social speech is an important one.

Commercial speech is not afforded all the protections granted by the First Amendment to social, political, and religious speech; false or deceptive commercial speech has no First Amendment protection. [see addendum re: the First Amendment protection of commercial speech and an elaboration on advertising’s regulatory framework at the conclusion of the discussion of this chapter.]

ASK: In the situations discussed in case #31, we cannot know the motivation for rejection of the ads was anything other than those stated. Still, we might ask, is it ethical to reject an advertisement for no reason other than that it is inconsistent with our personal beliefs? Why or why not?

ASK: Do you believe that identifying an advertising message as “too controversial,” is a legitimate reason for rejecting an ad in a culture that celebrates “the marketplace of ideas”? If so, who should determine what constitutes “controversial” subject matter?



The Other Side of the Clearance Coin: Advertiser’s Support of “Offensive” Content

TELL: As discussed, because few media can exist without advertising revenue, advertisers have considerable power to choose those who are given a voice and those who are not. Advertisers and the media their dollars support seldom call public attention to this fact of media life. That is, for the most part, it remains largely out of sight unless something goes awry: typically this occurs when advertisers are perceived as wielding their financial power inappropriately.

Advertiser attempts to shape non-advertising media content, then, is not limited to news, but extends to other media content as well. Advertisers have been known to pull their support if certain popular shows don’t change “offensive” content (e.g., Ellen DegeneresRoseanne).

TELL: These situations are almost universally criticized as advertiser attempts to exert an inappropriate control over media content, and in many instances as efforts to “silence” particular voices or perspectives.

TELL: However, in other instances, advertisers are viewed to be “at fault” for their support, and their continuing support of content viewed to be inappropriate. For example, when viewers banded together on Twitter to complain that the VH1 reality show Sorority Sisters portrayed black Greek organizations in a negative light, advertisers were quick to pull their advertising from the program.

Similarly, comments seen to be disparaging the nursing profession made by a host on The View, resulted in serious backlash on social media (including the creation of hashtag #NursesUnite), a public apology by the host, and a number of advertisers withdrawing advertising support from the show.

ASK: What do you think? What responsibility do advertisers have for the content their ad dollars support?

ASIDE:  This question is commonly raised in the context of “shock jocks,” radio hosts who frequently publicly broadcast offensive speech (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Howard Stern, Don Imus). The ethical dimensions are many: questions of truth, fairness, justice, respect, and professionalism. Is it ethical for advertisers to support media rife with racist, sexist, homophobic remarks injurious to others and to the social community?

The discussion relates to a case from the previous edition of this text, “Shocking: The Case for Due Diligence.” (The case is available in the Media Ethics 9th edition archive.)


SUMMARIZE: Thus far, we’ve looked at a number of implications of an advertising-supported, profit-motivated media system: audiences are viewed as commodities; advertising can have an impact on the media industry structure (the media available); and media in turn can influence advertisers’ access to the marketplace of economic ideas by refusing to accept advertising.

Another concern inherent in our commercial media system (suggested in McChesney’s and Jhally’s earlier remarks) is that advertisers exert control or attempt to exert control over non-advertising content. McAllister raises this issue when he writes:

…advertising has an ideological effect upon media content. Advertising’s economic presence significantly influences the view of the world that media present, a view embedded in and influenced by social power and social relations.

TELL: The division between advertising and editorial content is the hallmark of journalistic integrity in a democratic society. Maintaining that barrier is a responsibility clearly stated in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the guidelines of the American Society of Magazine Editors:

Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. (SPJ)

Media consumers should always be able to distinguish between content produced by journalists and content delivered on behalf of advertisers. (ASME)

Advertisers many encourage reporters to cover some things and ignore others. Sometimes this is achieved explicitly; advertisers may threaten to withdraw advertising support if a media outlet runs a “less than positive story” about the advertiser. Alternatively, a medium may exercise self-censorship in an effort to not upset an advertiser. Either situation violates the division between advertising and editorial content.

TELL: Today, with the introduction of branded content, also called content marketing, the sharp line between editorial content and advertising has increasingly become a dotted line. What is branded content? The answer: it depends. As the comment from Advertising Age in the text points out, branded content is “surprisingly hard to define or distinguish from many other activities,” Forrester research defines content marketing as “producing, curating and sharing content that is based upon customers’ needs and delivers visible value.” It is something the marketers define for themselves.”

TELL: The lines between established media businesses and advertisers are also becoming blurred. Media companies are producing more content on behalf of advertisers. Forbes’s BrandVoice allows advertisers to produce editorial products that “reflect their best efforts to engage audiences. The content is clearly labeled advertising, but has the familiar headline, art and text configuration of an editorial work.”

TELL:  As the introduction to the case suggests, there are a number of reasons why branded content/content marketing has taken on importance in the current media culture. Among these are:

  • the ever-increasing number of commercial messages,
  • perceived decline in advertising effectiveness in an environment cluttered with media that are themselves cluttered with advertising;
  • media seeking new, innovative ways to generate revenue during challenging economic times.
  • advertisers seeking new ways to connect with audiences who are seemingly less inclined to view and are actively avoiding advertising content.

Advertising makes up a significant portion of media content; as noted earlier, our culture is cluttered with cluttered media. Advertisers are working harder than ever to get their voices heard, and media are seeking new ways to diversify their revenue stream. Recognizing the adage that consumers don’t read advertising they read content (and increasingly, they want conversation), branded content has become a recognized strategy in the marketing toolbox. Two of the most common forms of branded content are native advertising (Case #32) and product placement (Case #33).

TELL: Native advertising, at its basic level … is advertising paid for by outside companies in an online news outlet that takes the appearance of editorial content produced by that outlet. Essentially, it is an “ad trying not to be an ad.”

TELL: A writer in digiday reported that in 2015, 90 percent of online publishers have adopted or are considering adding native advertising. Native advertising expenditures are expected to grow by 33% to $5.7 billion in 2016. Still, this accounts for less than 5 percent of the total ad spend.

TELL: As the case suggests, in blurring the wall between editorial and advertising, native advertising raises a number of ethical issues for both publishers and advertisers, as well as questions of effectiveness in the long-term. These controversies are evident in comments made at the FTC workshop, “Native Advertising. Blurred Lines—Advertising or Content?” in 2013.

TELL: At the FTC Workshop, Bob Garfield, MediaPost columnist elaborated on Brand Voice, calling it one of the most straight-forward and most aggressive in the branded content business [at the time]. He called attention to another concern in today’s increasingly participatory media culture:

The problem is that this is the digital world that we’re talking about. That content may be born under a BrandVoice logo on, but it doesn’t stay there. No, it migrates. And within eight hours of this native ad being posted, it has also shown up, no doubt with the sponsor’s help, on 162 other sites. And as far as those sites were concerned, the source was not the native advertising section of Forbes, it was simply Forbes.

NOTE: A case from an earlier edition of this text it a bit dated but because of the popularity of Johnny Depp (and quite honestly, the “beauty” of the ad) may be of interest to students. “Front Page for Sale? Advertising and Editorial Content,” focuses on the LA Times’s “front page” advertisement featuring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in the film Alice and Wonderland.” (The case is available in the Media Ethics 9th edition archive.)

TELL: Media attempts to diversify revenue streams are not limited to news media. Product placement  (case #33) is so ubiquitous in books, movies, television, video games, magazines, etc., that Commercial Alert, a non-profit advocacy group that seeks to keep commercialism “in its place,” identified the phenomenon as a “huge, out-of-control issue.”

These days consumer brands not only appear on shows, but are also elaborately woven into the plot (Pepsi example, case 33) with advertisers calling a lot of the shots. Their agencies approve television scripts, suggest plots that hinge on the product, attend and critique the episode shoots, and review the rough cuts of episodes. This escalation in the degree of product involvement in the process of creating the program and in the content of the program itself has led to the evolution of the concept of product placement (placement more or less as a prop) to product integration, to what one AdWeek writer called immersive integration, a sophisticated, highly creative hybrid that fuses content and commerce by making brands intrinsic elements of the drama, excitement and storyline of prime-time programs.” This integration is driven by the need to make brands more meaningful to consumers and to engage with viewers who skip ads.

TELL: Sometimes products are inserted into a storyline so perfectly that viewers don’t know they’re there, or don’t know a business deal is attached. The FCC regularly revisits the issue of what it commonly identifies as “embedded advertising” in light of increased usage, opportunities made possible by technological innovation, and changing media platforms. Should disclosure of product placement deals be mandated? In the words of an FCC commissioner: “We’re not saying they can’t do it—we’re just saying they have to let the audience know what they’re doing.”

ASK: While critics complain that placements like those discussed here increase the commercialization of entertainment and may be an unwarranted invasion of privacy to captive audiences, defenders suggest that placements provide much needed revenue as well as giving a sense of authenticity to the plot, and aiding in character development. Does product placement/integration raise serious ethical issues? Why or why not?

ASK: Do you see the use of product integration into media programming, books, movies, magazines, etc. as an unethical violation of privacy?

TELL [an aside?]: Particularly troubling to many is product placement in video games, advergames (video games created by companies to promote their brands; the games frequently appear on websites targeting children), games played on game consoles, computers playing CDs, or online which has become a popular strategy for reaching children. The combination of content, animated images, and interactivity is highly appealing and children’s access to such games has increased dramatically. Critics contend that these placements are exploiting vulnerable children who are believed to lack the cognitive ability to discern the persuasive intentions.

ASK: Is product integration appropriate in some media but not in others?

TELL: Consider again the media marketplace:

  • native advertising/branded content and product placement/immersive integration in media ranging from internet sites, legacy media, TV and movies, to books and popular music
  • ads at particular points of consumer contact—urinals, on fruit, on eggs, grocery store and airport luggage conveyor belts, even escalators and public school buses
  • ads in places where consumers traditionally found respite from commercial messages—libraries, hospitals, schools, wedding receptions
  • ads in our own homes: the Internet of Things buttons makes it easy to order household items (and increasingly much more) with the tap of a button;
  • “unconventional messages in unconventional places” via guerrilla efforts(case #23)
  • invitations to join in the advertising process through opportunities to play advergames on websites, and crowdsourcing, holding contests to create ads

Advertisers are concerned about advertising effectiveness in this cluttered landscape: will efforts get consumer attention? Will they hold consumer attention long enough to communicate?

TELL: Consider the consumer in today’s media marketplace. In this cluttered media marketplace, there are indications that consumers are getting burned out. Advertisers and media publishers are concerned.

More than a decade ago, media analyst Joe Mandese wrote:

Madison Avenue is doing the opposite of what consumers want. Instead of trying to understand their time constraints, their need to prioritize their media options, and perhaps most important, their desire to avoid unwanted, irrelevant, and incessant advertising messages, advertisers are finding new ways to disseminate even more.

Advertiser efforts to break through clutter by increasing the load of advertising messages have escalated, some might say “astronomically,” since then. So too has the ability of consumers to control their media and advertising exposure.

TELL: Increasingly, consumers are taking control of their exposure to advertising in a variety of ways: TiVo, DVRs, do-not-call lists, do-not-track lists, payment for advertising-free content, and most recently, ad blocking (case #34). An advertising analyst recently noted that “As long as people control their own devices they are going to try to move their own objectives.” Efforts to avoid advertising has had important ramifications (branded content and product integration are products of reaching audiences that avoid advertising), and will continue to do so. The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates that ad blocking costs the industry $781 million a year; and estimate 86 million people will use ad blocking software in 2017.

NOTE: the ad-blocking “situation” is on-going, new voices enter in; new options—both philosophical and technological—are advanced. ASK about current developments, new concerns that arise, and new solutions proffered.

ASK: How would the discussion change if questions of clutter,over-marketing, ad-blocking, and implications for effectiveness were to be recast as ethical questions?

ASIDE: The industry is increasingly becoming enamored of the idea of storytelling as an effort to tackle both advertiser concerns with audience avoidance efforts, and audience concerns with clutter and irrelevance. A writer in AdWeek noted:

We [advertisers] should strive to create long lasting stories and characters instead of disposable ones. Hollywood creates Storyworlds—fictional worlds or universes that are created to play out a story narrative across multiple platforms. Instead of campaigns, or ads, why can’t we create Storyworlds? We obviously have the ability to create interesting narratives that stretch across various media, across screens and across devices.

The way we can tell these stories is seemingly endless. We could create a pre-roll trailer, television commercial, live streaming event, a virtual reality experience, experiential event, short series, feature film, installation, a product, museum exhibit, a music album, a music album’s complimentary film; anything you can dream up.

ASK: What new issues might arise in this “storytelling” scenario?


Addendum: Elaboration on Advertising’s Regulatory Framework

TELL: Commercial speech is not afforded all the protections granted by the First Amendment to social, political, and religious speech; false or deceptive commercial speech has no First Amendment protection. In Virginia Pharmacy (1976), the Supreme Court declared commercial speech to be protected by the First Amendment based on the premise that consumers want and need commercial information to make marketplace decisions which are the bedrock of the free market system. However, subsequent Supreme Court rulings suggested there were instances in which advertising could be regulated and provided a four-part test to determine those (Central Hudson 1980); found that advertising for legal products could be banned (Posadas 1986), and subsequently “overturned” that decision (44 Liquormart 1996) making it unlikely that complete bans on truthful advertising will ever be valid under the First Amendment.

TELL: The Federal Trade Commission is the primary government agency with oversight of advertising, though a number of other agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, exercise control in particular categories. In addition to regulating false advertising, the FTC regulates deceptive advertising, defined as advertising which contains a representation or omission of information that would likely mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances in a material way. It should be noted that an advertisement that contains no falsehood can be identified as deceptive it if creates an impression that is likely to mislead reasonable consumers.

NOTE: It might be useful to provide a couple of examples to illustrate. Current cases can be found on the FTC website (

NOTE: Another controversial issue in advertising regulation/ethics is puffery. Puffery, in legal terms is “an exaggeration or statement that no reasonable person would take as factual” and is therefore not considered to be deceptive. Puffery is usually exaggerated statements, superlatives and opinions; examples include such phrases as “finest in the world,” “amazing” and “best ever.” Ivan Preston has written about this “slippery slope” in The Great American Blow-up: Puffery in Advertising and Selling.

TELL: The advertising industry also as a self-regulatory system that attempts to “internalize standards of conduct and generate moral adhesion to those standards” (Boddewyn, 1991), and has been highly successful in “regulating” the industry; only rarely has an issue originating within the self-regulatory system remained unresolved and sent on to the FTC.



TELL: The concept of a “professional” is fluid; it means different things in different historical moments and the perceived importance of professional recognition also varies. Our concern here is not to determine whether advertising is or is not a profession, opinions on that issue vary. Quoting from the case now: “What is more important…is the recognition that much of ‘what we are’ as an industry, … what we value and what we dismiss, are reflections of advertising’s early efforts to professionalize, and current acknowledgement of the importance of professional recognition.”

TELL: Early efforts to adopt science as an avenue of escape from the perceived hucksterism of P.T. Barnum and patent medicines have left the industry with a commitment to scientific and empirical rigor, and a “bottom-line” assessment of our success in providing a solution to our clients’ problems. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this vision of what we do as an industry, absent is recognition of our power as a vehicle of social communication and the acknowledgment of the consequences of our work in the larger social world.

TELL: Today, you hear a lot about corporate culture. For example, when two companies are considering a merger, comments in the business press about the compatibility (or incompatibility) of the individual companies’ corporate cultures typically ensue. A corporate culture might be viewed, simplistically, as ways of doing things that persist even though the members of the group change (e.g., the corporate mission, tradition and history, and philosophy).

TELL: Advertising agencies also have distinctive cultures (“creative,” “traditional,” “avant-garde”). However, a professional culture might be thought of as an “umbrella” or “aggregate” culture; it is shared by professionals in the advertising business regardless of individual agency culture. In order to define advertising’s professional culture we might ask questions like (NOTE: here “we” = the advertising profession):

  • What do we value? What do we see as our role? What are our responsibilities?
  • How do we go about our work?
  • What do we think we are doing when we are “doing advertising work?”
  • How do we actively (though perhaps unconsciously) construct an image of our profession?
  • What is that image?

: Public perception of advertising professionals in terms of trust and honesty is decidedly negative, and has been negative for decades. How do you think the general public forms its views of the industry?

TELL: The ads consumers see all around them are likely to be a primary source of the public’s perception of advertising. Some view ads as entertaining and informative; others as interruptions to their news, sports, or entertainment, easily “zapped or zipped” or blocked (case #34). In any case, the ads themselves are a somewhat limited source of understanding our industry. Other sources of insight into our values, beliefs, self-constructed identity, etc., might include:

  • Awards we give and the ads to which we give them
  • Codes of ethics; adherence to those codes; and evidence of ethical foundations
  • Diversity—who we hire and who we don’t (inclusion/exclusion), who we promote and retain
  • Reaction to public opinion, criticism, business opinion; this is typically expressed in the trade press
  • Pro bono work; few think of the Advertising Council, an industry-wide collaboration which has been addressing critical social issues since it created the category of PSAs (public service announcements) in 1942 (
  • Trade advertising, public presentations, and discussions in the press
  • Educational programs in the industry as well as in universities and colleges

: In a study of advertising practitioners’ view of ethics, Drumwright and Murphy note that most conversations about advertising ethics take place not among advertising practitioners, but in the legal community or among media or social critics.

ASK: What might this observation suggest about our professional culture?

TELL: It is useful to remind ourselves of the difference between that which is legal and that which is ethical. Let’s define these concepts.

ANS. Legal is that which is required by law. Ethics is “concerned with questions of what ought to be done, not just what legally must be done” (Cunningham, quoted in Drumwright and Murphy). In short, legality is about compliance with the law. Ethics starts where the law ends. An ethical dilemma arises when a decision with substantial ramifications must be made and there is no single “right” answer; there is no law.

TELL: The late Professor Ivan Preston, an advertising legal scholar, discussing the distinction between the law and ethics once noted:

Now, I have heard…people…say that you’re doing an ethical thing simply by choosing to obey the law. I regard that at best as an awfully low form of ethics, and in fact so low that I personally don’t regard that as ethics at all. Doing something useful for your fellow human beings doesn’t deserve much credit when your purpose for doing so includes avoiding the punishment you could get for not doing it.

TELL: Today, it is widely recognized that legal frameworks cannot keep pace with the capabilities made possible by rapid, constant, technological innovation. In the absence of those frameworks, the importance of ethical vigilance is particularly urgent.

TELL: A component of our advertising’s professional culture of which we are particularly proud is our self-regulatory structure. [This might be a good time to review the ASRC, formerly the NARC (see activity, case 31).]

TELL: Industry and agency codes of ethics are a part of the self-regulatory structure.

TELL: As noted (case #35), ethical codes serve a variety of internal functions: recognizing and reminding the profession of its responsibilities, creating a sense of moral community where ethical behavior is the norm, and providing guidance in particular situations. Ethics codes also signal to the external communities that the profession is seriously concerned with behaving in a socially responsible manner.

ASK: The AAAA Standards of Practice, was first adopted in 1924; the Institute for Advertising Ethics’ Principles and Practices is the industry’s most recently developed code of ethics (2011). A number of advertising-related trade and professional associations also have developed ethical codes (see activity, case 35).Thinking back to all we’ve discussed thus far in this section—ethical dilemmas arising in the face of increased commercialization, an image-based culture, technological innovation, and a commercial media system—let’s examine the AAAA Standards of Practice.

Do you believe the Standards are an active, viable touchstone for practitioners in their day-to-day work and decision-making routines. Why or why not? Can you provide examples to support your answer?

TELL: While all AAAA member agencies must adhere to the Standards, individual agencies also may have a code of ethics to which they will subscribe. The usefulness of such codes was noted by Drumwright and Murphy (Journal of Advertising, Summer 2004), in their study of advertising practitioners’ views of ethics. They identified “seeing, talking advertising practitioners [who] appeared to recognize moral issues readily, evidencing moral discernment and understanding.” They go on to note:

Almost without exception, the agencies in which the “seeing, talking” practitioners worked appeared to have organizational cultures and climates that encourage moral seeing and talking. These agencies appeared to have some authentic norms regarding ethical behavior that were widely held and clearly articulated by members of the community.

TELL: Unfortunately, as noted in the case, Drumwright and Murphy found that a “substantial portion” of respondents either didn’t recognize ethical issues or rationalized them away. These practitioners were what the authors called morally myopic, that is, they did not see a problem; or morally mute, that is, though they may have recognized a moral problem, they did not “recognizably communicate their moral concerns in situations where such communication would be fitting.”

TELL: Codes of ethics are most effective when treated as “living” documents which are frequently revisited. In this way, codes continue to reflect new dilemmas and concerns that arise in the context of new media, technological innovations, regulatory changes, alterations in agency structures and functions, cultural shifts, etc.

ASK: Responding to Judge Berman’s decision in the Seifert case, O. Burtch Drake, AAAA president and CEO, remarked that the AAAA Standards of Practice had served the industry well and indicated he didn’t “see a need for a change or addition to [those] standards.” What does this reaction suggest to you about the role of ethics and ethical codes in advertising’s professional culture?

TELL: Although Rick Wartzman was examining corporate (v. agency) culture when he made the following observation, his point is well-taken:

…even the most upright people are apt to become dishonest and unmindful of their civic responsibilities when placed in a typical corporate environment.

He attributed ethical lapses to organizational dynamics and peer pressure (“Nature or Nurture? Study Blames Ethical Lapses on Corporate Goals,” WSJ, October 9, 1987).

ASK: What characteristics of advertising’s professional culture do you think might contribute to the industry’s seeming moral myopia and muteness?

LOOK FOR: advertising’s constructed image as fast-paced, “get-it-to-me-yesterday;” a focus on advertising as a tool of business rather than a vehicle of social communication, and hence, a shortage of consideration of social consequences; emphasis on being “edgy,” structural organization that makes community-building difficult, a tendency to adopt the operational philosophy that the customer is always right, etc. This is discussed further in “The Heart of the Matter in Advertising Ethics,” which follows this chapter.

TELL: Ethical codes may seem abstract. It is in encounters with real-life ethical dilemmas that ethical codes take on meaning—providing guidance for particular situations or providing a focal point for “individual reflection” or “community discussion.” Let’s keep the AAAA Standards and the IAE Principles in mind as we consider the remaining cases in this chapter which focus on everyday practices and routines of the advertising business.

TELL: Before discussing case #36, let’s talk a bit about branding. In her book, No Logo, cultural critic Naomi Klein traces how the concept of branding has changed over time. Initially, commodity-based branding was little more than affixing a logo to product packaging to identify the product, create familiarity, and provide a kind of assurance of quality—“if you tried this brand before and had a good experience, rest assured you will have that experience again.”

Increased production of parity products, products that are essentially the same, required a shift to image-based branding. Corporations began to create image-based differences. Eventually, the production of commodities became cumbersome. Today, corporations like Nike outsource all production; they don’t make products. Instead, Nike is in the business of marketing the Nike image.

Finally, Klein identifies what she views as experientially based branding which she believes has fundamentally changed our culture:

Now [it is] no longer a marketplace where you’re deciding upon products based upon tangible qualities presented in advertising…but upon brand identities/essences based upon intangible feelings/attitudes/likes/dislikes presented in a “total marketing environment.”

TELL: Marketing scholar David Aaker suggestions that branding is “a distinguishing characteristic of modern marketing.” He notes:

Unique brand associations have been established. …The idea has been to move beyond commodities to branded products—to reduce the primacy of price upon the purchase decision…

TELL: While Klein and Aaker agree fundamentally on what a brand is, and perhaps even on how branding works as a tool of persuasion, their perceptions of the beneficence of branding are decidedly different.

ASK: What are those differences?

ASK: Looking at it from the manufacturer/advertising perspective, is it ethical to create difference where none exists?

ASK: Adopting a consumer perspective, is it rational to pay extra for a commodity simply because a brand name is attached? What are consumer responsibilities in the marketplace?

TELLCase #36 calls our attention to the process of branding, which is a fundamental component of advertising and marketing work. The case primarily focuses upon the economic impact of advertising’s creation of persuasive associations to differentiate similar, if not parity, products. Camouflaged in this focus on branding bottled water is any discussion of the environmental impact that may result.

ASK: Due to the tenacity of the bottled water-tap water debate, the number of large corporations involved, and the growth of the industry, social critics are eager to voice their concerns. A search of the web will provide a number of resources that examine the environmental impact of the bottled water industry. These resources are updated fairly regularly, and often provide thought-provoking statistics related to the cost and environmental impact, as well as the amount of oil used in making bottles. Ask students to do a bit of investigation outside class.

Does consideration of the environmental impact of the bottled water industry in any way change your response to the question: is it ethical to create difference where none exists?

TELL: We do well to remind ourselves that advertising is a communication tool designed to persuade, that is, to bring about some effect, be it behavioral, attitudinal, or cognitive. Advertising is the business of image-building; it is in the business of branding.

TELLCase #37 calls our attention to another routine practice fundamental to “doing advertising work,” identifying/creating/defining target markets. It reminds us that while essential to effective and efficient advertising communication, targeting is grounded in the process of stereotyping.

ASK: Let’s recall our earlier discussion (Chapter 7) of stereotypes. We noted that stereotypes might be viewed (over-simplistically) as little more than classification systems allowing us to place individuals into groups; that is, stereotypes serve a cognitive function. Yet, the process of stereotyping is not so benign. Stereotypes are not neutral, but instead reflect and camouflage dimensions of power. Stereotypes do ideological work. Given this, why is stereotyping ethically problematic?

TELL: This case focuses on two ethical dimensions of the targeting process. The first revolves around why and how marketers go about constructing target markets.

TELL: The creation of a Spanish-speaking nation-within-a-nation, was initiated by media entrepreneurs seeking to establish a TV network in the US. These media entrepreneurs, constructed and “marketed” Latinidad, a group that was large enough, had enough buying power, and sufficient homogeneity to appeal to advertisers. Having done so, advertisers then were convinced of the need for specialized media to reach that market effectively and efficiently. Davila notes that Latinos were “continually recast as authentic and marketable, but ultimately as a foreign rather than intrinsic component of U.S. society, culture, and history.”

TELL: Advertisers interested in reaching the gay market similarly sought to create a picture of a “marketable” group: white, upscale, hyper-consuming, trend-setters. Though research often revealed a gay population quite different from that the advertisers imagined, this stereotypical gay male came to be the gay market.

TELL: The second ethical dimension of the targeting process involves the consequences of that process. Davila links the recognition of media power as a cultural communicator with the commercial nature of the media system when she notes:

Commercial representations may shape people’s cultural identities as well as affect notions of belonging and cultural citizenship in public life….… marketing discourse is not without economic and political repercussions.

ASK: What is Davila suggesting here? Can you supply examples to illustrate?

LOOK FOR: advertiser-constructed images influence how individuals in each of these groups are understood politically, economically, and socially as well as how they view themselves and their “fit” in the world around them.

A useful point at which to begin discussion is Spence and Van Heekeren’s statement:

…advertising may be presenting a very biased and very partial view of society, one that excludes many groups of individuals who do not fall into those selected advertising types. If, as we are often told, advertising is a reflection of society, then it is a very limited, partial, and biased reflection. In fact, it is a reflection that is itself a grand stereotype.

NOTE: Other target groups that might generate discussion are: “tweens,” tots, metrosexuals, and hub cultures.

TELL: In case #38, the issue is not deception; the ads are image-based—there are no explicit claims. The issue, then, is not a legal one, but an ethical one which might be be identified as taste. Keith Reinhard notes (“The Taste Debate”) that we cannot argue about taste because it is personal. He goes on to say, however, that our inability to regulate doesn’t let us off the hook as professionals. “Whether the ads we create are in good or bad taste, whether they are decent or indecent is a choice each of us has to make.” Advertising giant Bill Bernbach said much the same thing when he noted:

All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can lift it up to a higher level.

ASK: What are the values, issues, loyalties involved in the case presented? Are the issues merely a matter of taste rather than an ethical concern?

TELL: Drumwright and Murphy suggest that there are three levels of decision-making: (1) individual; (2) organizational; and (3) societal. Moral myopia occurs at all three levels, but is more acute at the organizational and societal levels. This suggests, for example, that while we might see a problem with a representation in a particular ad for a particular reason, we may not link that representation in any broader way to oppression of women or prejudice against racial, ethnic, or religious groups or groups with a particular sexual preference, language, able-bodiedness, etc.

ASK: Carefully consider Jeff and Eric’s behavior in the situation presented. At what level of decision-making did they appear to be thinking about the representations? Identify how the situation might be conceptualized at all three levels, that is, the individual, organizational, and societal levels.

TELL: Another way to think about the case, then, is to consider the relationship between personal and professional ethics. This calls our attention to the complexity of the situation. Consider:

  • Jeff’s personal values lead him to disagree with the appropriateness of the proposed advertisement.
  • His disagreement aligns with the AAAA Standards of Practice; the creative code states: “We will not knowingly create statements, suggestions, or pictures offensive to public decency or minority segments of the population.”
  • Jeff, however, perceives that his personal values in this instance are not aligned with the values of the profession as practiced, and to take a principled stand might jeopardize his reputation and even his position in the agency.

Some would argue that Jeff has a personal as well as a professional responsibility to “speak up,” and that in not doing so, he is behaving unethically. Then too, it is possible that Jeff’s decision to violate his own ethical rules ultimately may have harmful ramifications for others: individually, organizationally, and societally.

TELL: Case #38 illustrated that advertising may be identified as controversial based upon its execution: sexual connotations, sexist or racist language or images, excessive fear appeals, vulgarity, etc. Then too, some products, by their very nature are deemed “controversial.” The list of products so identified is wide-ranging, among them: alcohol, feminine hygiene products, weight-loss programs, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, extremist groups. In case #39, the controversial product is e-cigarettes.

TELL: What are the advertising agency’s primary obligations in this case. That is, to whom is moral duty owed? Seth and Federica, share a belief in a free market economy, yet seem to be viewing the situation from somewhat different perspectives. While grounded by similar values, their prioritization of those values and the perceived key stakeholder groups vary, ultimately leading to different conclusions.

DISCUSS: Let’s use the Potter Box as our decision-making model to arrive at a morally justifiable decision. The uncertainty over possible future regulations is an additional complicating factor.

NOTE: The regulation of e-cigarettes and e-cigarette marketing may have been decided by the time you encounter this case, or may remain unresolved. In either scenario, the moral dilemma involved in making decisions about “risky” clients/products, or collaborating with emerging institutions and blurring once-well-defined boundaries will remain. We will need to use new technologies ethically. Situations will arise in which novel choices will necessarily to be made. In this context, Jenkins, Ford, and Green writing in Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, remind us:

…new communication platforms do not determine some inevitable “end…” What people collectively and individually decide to do with those technologies as professionals and as audiences, and what kinds of culture people produce and spread in and around these tools, are still to be determined.

Ethical decision-making has never been more imperative.

NOTE TO INSTRUCTOR: The advertising section in previous editions of this text concluded with cases focused on workplace diversity as an ethical dilemma in advertising. Those cases were not included in this edition. In all good conscience, however, we felt compelled to include a sidebar on diversity in the advertising workplace; a lack of diversity continues to plague our profession.

The discussion below relates to cases from the previous edition of this text: case #41, “A Woman’s Place Is…..?” and case #42, “A Diverse Advertising Workplace: An Oxymoron?”  (Those cases are available in the Media Ethics 9th edition archive. They may require updates re: progress made since publication of that edition. We hope updates are required.)


SIDEBAR: Diversity and the Advertising Workplace

TELL: Let’s go back and remind ourselves about professional culture. It is about what we, as an industry, a group of professionals, value. It’s about how we go about our work, and what we think we are doing when we do our work.

TELL: These two cases (Media Ethics 9th edition archive, cases #41#42 ) ask point blank: does the advertising industry value diversity? Let’s think about this. Historian and feminist Joan Wallach Scott reminds us that “entry alone does not solve all the problems of discrimination, that organizations and institutions are hierarchically differentiated systems, that physical access [to a profession] is not the end of the story.”

Jannette Dates, Dean of Howard University’s School of Communication, said much the same thing in an Advertising Age article about a program jointly developed between Howard University and the 4As focused on developing diversity in industry hiring and retention:

There is a lot of churn in the industry because there is not a feeling of being welcomed. [People of color] do not see people who look like them at senior or middle levels.

ASK: What is diversity?

LOOK FOR: Students will likely offer a variety of answers here which might be probed to add depth if necessary. The goal here is two-fold: (1) to think broadly about diversity; and (2) to recognize that diversity is about more than the images in our ads.

TELL: Diversity is the acknowledgement and inclusion of a wide variety of peoples with differing characteristics, attributes, beliefs, values, and experiences. In advertising, diversity tends to be discussed primarily in terms of representations of gender, race, and ethnicity in advertising content. However, diversity isn’t simply about gender, race, and ethnicity. Consider, for example, primary language, spiritual practices, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, age, able-bodiedness, etc.

Nor is diversity simply about images. Viewed in all its complexity, diversity impacts every aspect of the advertising profession: professional culture, production of content, content itself, the manner in which that content is placed and received, and the ways in which the profession is regulated.

TELL: While these cases both deal with issues of inclusion and diversity, the situation of women and that of people of color in the advertising industry are different, even as they are the same.

ASK: Related to women in the advertising workplace:

  • What are the primary barriers to full participation and advancement of women in the advertising workplace? Do you think these barriers are primarily structural or attitudinal? (Nancy Mitchell wrote that in advertising, “the glass ceiling is not glass after all; it consists of a very dense layer of White men.”)
  • Do you think the problems professional advertising women face in the advertising industry are more the result of a lack of reflection and consciousness than outright sexism? Why or why not?
  • How might the organizational and structural dynamics that negatively influence the experience and advancement of women in advertising be changed?
  • What kinds of experiences and efforts might be encouraged in the process?
  • Do you think women entering the advertising workplace must adjust their gender identities in order to be professionally successful?

TELL: As you answer the questions, recall Mallia’s observation regarding the “incompatibility between motherhood and agency creative jobs” as well as comments offered up by the women writing on

TELL: Think again about Nancy Vonk’s comment at the conclusion of her essay. One cannot help but sense that Vonk views the consequences of her and other women in the industry having been morally mute:

Finally the women reading this are going to have to do better than me. I’ve suddenly realized that looking the other way, turning the other cheek in any situation,…makes me part of the problem. I’m snapping out of it awfully late, and it seems obvious we can’t take this…and expect to see anything change. Don’t be discouraged; be outraged and act accordingly.


ASK: Related to people of color in the advertising workplace:

  • What are the primary barriers to full participation and advancement of people of color in the advertising agency workplace? Do you think these barriers are primarily structural or attitudinal?
  • Do you think the problems professional people of color face in the advertising industry are more the result of a lack of reflection and consciousness than outright racism? Why or why not?
  • How might the organizational and structural dynamics that negatively influence the experience and advancement of people of color in advertising be changed?
  • What kinds of experiences and efforts might be encouraged in the process?
  • What roles might clients play in encouraging more diverse agency workplaces?

on the answers to these questions.

NOTE: The 4As partnered with historically black Howard University in 2008 to create a professional-development and research center at Howard University’s School of Communications. The AAAA will provide financial support, fund-raising assistance, and leadership in developing the center’s research, curriculum, and programming. The dean of the school, Jannette Dates noted: “this is one of the first times that the 4A’s has stepped up to say ‘We believe in diversity, and we want to put some money behind our thinking.’”

TELL: In his extraordinary book, Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry, Jason Chambers emphasizes that increased minority hiring is more than a moral imperative or a social responsibility. “It is an economic and social necessity.”

ASK: Given advertising’s professional culture, do you think the statement would be equally powerful stated this way: Minority hiring is more than an economic and social necessity. It is a moral imperative and a social responsibility. Discuss.


Addendum—Think About This

After attending the Poynter Institute studying “Diversity Across the Curriculum,” Kim Golombisky wrote an article in Journal of Advertising Education (Fall 2003) titled “Locating diversity within advertising excellence.” Though focused upon advertising education, much of what Golombisky says translates well to the industry. What follows, is an extended excerpt of that insightful piece.


[The Poynter Institute] approach brilliantly yet simply locates diversity within core values defining craft excellence. In other words, diversity becomes indistinguishable from our highest ideals of who we are and what we do. … Perhaps the most profound thing I learned at Poynter was that “A Complete Picture” of excellence “makes diversity ordinary practice” (Dunlap, Woods & Colon, 2003). As a result of my personal search for a definition of advertising excellence that makes diversity ordinary practice, I offer the following:

The advertising industry should reflect a complete picture of the society it emerges from and represents. Excellence in advertising honors the profession’s principles of truth, creativity, fair business practice, commercial free speech, and economic support of a free, democratic, plural media serving all peoples in the United States. To be complete, thus excellent, the advertising industry much bring the broadest range of credible products, services, people, and issues before the most inclusive range of views, listeners, readers, and users.

There are three parts to a complete advertising picture:

  1. Inclusion in the industry and its processes. Include people frequently left out of all levels of the advertising industry, its practices and its processes, particularly black peoples; Asian Americans; Latinas; Native Americans; people with disabilities, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people; women of all races and ethnicities; and the economically disadvantaged.
  2. Serving the underserved without exploitation. As ordinary business practice, serve underserved consumers, audiences, populations, and markets without exploitation. Do business with independent, minority-owned, and alternative media. Address un-addressed social and economic issues.
  3. Mitigating bias and prejudice in advertising messages. Produce messages and images free of euphemisms and stereotypes. Employ under-represented peoples and show them in their ordinariness by representing them as meaningful, contributing members of society. Be ever conscious of the dangers inherent in juxtaposed words and visuals to avoid delivering unintended messages.

From: Golombisky, Kim, “Locating diversity within advertising excellence,” Journal of Advertising Education, Fall 2003, 20-23.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 6 (cases 23-26)


1. In discussing the case, we suggest that guerilla marketing is an intriguing ethical area because of the wide diversity of efforts. “At one end we see private enterprise at its most inventive; at the other end, practices that are often labeled deceptive, intrusive, and offensive.“ Where does the boundary between “creative, innovative” and “going too far” lie? Should limits be set on how far advertisers go to “get noticed”? If so, who should set them?

2. Though not talking about relatively benign guerrilla efforts like those mentioned early in the case, media scholar and critic Stuart Ewen identifies many guerrilla efforts as “carefully calculated deception.” Are such efforts “to take people by surprise” inherently unethical? Why or why not? Is the ethicality of guerrilla marketing efforts dependent on whether the marketer is a commercial advertiser or a non-profit or advocacy organization? Why or why not?

3. As quoted in the case discussion, Stuart Ewen, media scholar and critic, writes that the main thing guerrilla tactics add to our lives “is an intensified sense of distrust of and alienation from others.” Do you agree? What aspects of guerrilla marketing might result in distrust and alienation?


1. What role does consumer marketing have in the prescription drug market at all? Are DTC pharmaceutical ads inherently unethical? Why or why not?

2. Most countries in the world do not allow direct to consumer drug advertising. Should the United States do the same?

3. Critics frequently distinguish between drugs used to treat chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure) and “lifestyle drugs” (e.g., for treatment of impotence, baldness, wrinkles). This raises several questions. Are ads for “lifestyle drugs” ethical? Who should determine which drugs are classified as “lifestyle drugs”? On what basis should the decision be made?


1. Few would argue with the desirability of corporate philanthropy. Indeed, studies show that consumers reward corporations for what they perceive to be socially responsible activity on the part of the corporation. Still, one might ask: Is it ethical for corporations to make philanthropic decisions based strategically upon their own best interest rather than upon social welfare?

2. In a social context rife with concerns over environmental degradation, global poverty, economic inequity, escalating energy consumption, lack of drinking water, pollution, etc., is the blatant appeal to consumption and the implicit suggestion of consumption as activism ethical? In the short term? In the long term?

3. In the case discussion, we pose the following question somewhat rhetorically:

Are we comfortable with corporate decision makers who, by professional necessity, are motivated primarily by the needs and objectives of the corporation rather than by social welfare, making decisions about the relative importance of social needs in achieving/maintaining public welfare?

Now, rather than exploring the question theoretically, reflect on what you’ve read and heard in discussion and personally answer the question. Are you comfortable? Why or why not?

4. What additional ethical concerns are raised by the fact that today, CRM activities increasingly are directed to the solution of “developmental” concerns in “faraway lands?”


1. Given the prevalence of social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others where people willingly disclose personal information, should participation be considered permission to gather and/or share the information for advertising purposes? What type of disclosure, if any, should be required?

2. For the most part, adolescents portrayed in Generation Like appear to understand what’s going on. That is, the adolescents know what their efforts are providing for them as well as for advertisers. They don’t really seem to care. Should they care?

3. PBS Learning Media summarizes Generation Like: “When kids like or re-tweet something they see online, whether they realize it or not, they’re helping advertisers create a demographic profile of them—a profile that advertisers can use to earn money for the companies they represent. Because the data generated through social media has monetary value, marketing executives are actively engaged in developing promotions that keep kids online.” Is this deceptive or manipulative when it’s facilitated by an enormous media company?

Learning Activities – Exercises

Chapter 6 (cases 23-26)


1. What are they saying?Objective: to examine the “professional dialogue” of guerrilla marketers. In celebrating or defending guerrilla marketing, advocates of the practice usually point to fairly benign examples—an impromptu contest at a conference dinner, an unexpected staged event—and not to efforts gone awry like those mentioned in the case. Given this, it might be insightful to examine how guerrilla marketing agencies promote their efforts to potential clients.

Ask students to go to the internet and examine the promotional materials of agencies practicing guerrilla techniques. What do these agencies identify as the virtues of the technique? Do they acknowledge social and ethical concerns which might arise? What examples do they showcase? Visit the web sites of firms responsible for some of the efforts gone awry as well as those who pursue more “innocent” efforts.

Ask students to identify examples of guerrilla efforts “in the news.” Guerrilla tactics frequently are newsworthy because they have “gone too far,” but also sometimes are lauded for their creativity and inventiveness. How do those responsible for the guerrilla efforts reported in the press talk about their technique in both situations?

2. Efficacy and Ethics. Objective: to consider ethical guidelines for guerrilla marketing campaigns that are both effective and ethical. The creative and surprising nature of guerrilla marketing makes it effective; however, sometimes creativity comes at the price of unethical practices

As noted in the case discussion:

At one end, we see private enterprise at its most inventive, working, sometimes ingeniously, to reach potential customers and sell them something. At the other end, we have practices that some have labeled deceptive, intrusive, and offensive.

Compare innovative campaigns that worked well/maintained ethical standards with those that “went too far.” What aspects of the campaigns were similar? What ethical boundaries were crossed in the “you’ve gone too-far” campaign? What ethical guidelines might provide a framework to maximum creativity while maintaining ethical standards? As a group, create a set of guidelines for guerrilla marketing practices.


1. Looking at DTC Pharmaceutical AdsPart I. Objective: to explore the ethical nature of DTC pharmaceutical ads in terms of the content/information provided.

  • Ask students to bring in examples of DTC pharmaceutical advertisements and commercials
  • As a class, examine the content of the advertisements, focusing on the kinds of drugs advertised as well as consistencies and differences between ads, kinds of appeals, etc.

Based on the class discussion and the analysis of content, what conclusions can be drawn about the ethical nature of these ads? (NOTE: Particular things to be looking for might be: whether ads are image-based or text-based, whether appeals are rational/informational or “emotional,” whether the ads provide appropriate risk/benefit information, whether the ads suggest alternatives to medication and suggest that consumers “ask their doctor if ….”

2. Looking at Images in DTC Pharmaceutical Ads—Part II. Objective: to examine the social messages in image-based DTC pharmaceutical advertising. Ask students to reflect upon an observation by Metzl, a psychiatrist, professor, and author:

The advertisements connect prescription medications with assumptions about what it means to be a normal man, woman, black person, white person, lover, worker, or a host of other abstract, protean roles in U.S. society. By doing so, the advertisements promote information not only about drugs, but also about the social contexts in which medications accrue symbolic meanings, that, one might well surmise, play out in clinical contexts.

  • Ask students to bring in examples of DTC pharmaceutical advertisements and commercials. (NOTE: This activity can be an extension of activity 1 or might be an alternative to that activity.)
  • As a class, examine the content of the advertisements, focusing on the social constructions in the ads. What do we learn about society? The place of various groups in society? The manner in which people live their lives and what they value? etc.

Based on the class discussion and image analysis, what conclusions can be drawn about the ethical nature of these image-based ads?

4. Marketing Pharmaceuticals to Physicians. Objective: While DTC pharmaceutical advertising is controversial, pharmaceutical companies spend considerably more on marketing to physicians. As the case noted, many companies spend more on marketing than they do on research and development. Methods for marketing to doctors and the scope of those efforts are also targeted by critics as unethical.

Watch the short segment “Marketing to Doctors,” from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver(17:12).The purpose of this activity is not to vilify the pharmaceutical industry, but instead, to pose some very pragmatic questions:

  • Should pharmaceuticals be marketed at all?
  • If so, how might this marketing be accomplished in a socially responsible manner?
  • If not, how can pharmaceutical companies inform and doctors become informed about new drugs available?


1. Are consumers aware?Objective: to consider the dimensions of consumer “involvement” in cause-related marketing (CRM). The quotations which open the case make two primary points: (1) messages suggesting that “conscientious consumption” can change the world are increasingly unavoidable; and (2) CRM is a convenient way for consumers to express their social welfare concerns. An inherent assumption underlying these observations is that consumers self-consciously engage in particular CRM activities based upon their concerns. Do they? NOTE: There are a couple of ways in which to approach the answer to this question:

  • Ask students in the class who have purchased a pink-ribbon product, a product (RED) item, a yellow, silicon, live-strong bracelet or other CRM items what motivated their purchase? Do they know what percentage of their purchase price went to “the cause”? Do they know what “the cause” was in any specific sense? Do they know how “the cause” uses the money to tackle the area of social concern? That is, do consumers stop to consider the solution they are supporting when they purchase a Red iPod, a yellow silicone bracelet, a pink ribbon pin?
  • Alternatively, you can ask students to pose the questions to friends rather than self-report.

Have students report their findings to the class and discuss any changes they might have had in their perceptions of CRM having reflected upon the activity in this manner.

2. Commodification of Disease—Breast Cancer. Objective: to encourage students to consider both the short-term and the long-term implications of the commodification of causes, in this case disease. Ask students to investigate “pink ribbon” products, a fitness-based fundraising event (e.g., CRM fund-raising events via consumer participation in physical activities), or other breast-cancer fundraising event..

Where does the money raised go in each case? That is, how do these particular efforts approach the “breast cancer problem”?

As a second part of the activity, ask students to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay, “Welcome to Cancerland.” Discuss the highly critical essay in class. There will be much to talk about. Ehrenreich raises questions about how diseases are constructed to attract donors, how corporate sponsorship has helped shape the way we think about the disease as well as the treatments, how breast cancer became a “marketable product,” the character of what she calls “The Cancer Industrial Complex,” and the cooptation of the concept of activism from political engagement to fund-raising.

3. Reading the fine print. Objective: To “follow the money” in CRM. It is unlikely that most CRM consumers bother to read the fine print: the amount being donated to a cause, ceilings on the amount the brand will donate, what organization the money will go to, and what the money is actually being used to accomplish. Remind students that each “decision to form an alliance with a particular group related to a cause is simultaneously a decision to advocate a particular solution to the problem, that is, to say, “this is the way that the problem should be solved.” Ask students to:

(1) Select a cause-related marketing effort in which they have participated or an effort for a cause that is important to them;

(2) Do a bit of research. Where is the money given to the cause as a result of their purchase actually going? Does it say plainly on the package/in the ad? What does that organization “do” in terms of the cause (that is, what “approach” is it taking to benefit the cause or alleviate the problem?)? How is the consumers’ money specifically being spent? Does the company you’re purchasing from have a cap on the amount it sends in donations regardless of the number of related purchases? What has the money from the organization achieved thus far?

(3) Write a short essay in which you provide a brief of your findings and a critical analysis of the effort from the perspective of the cause, the corporate partner, and the consumer.

4. Let’s hear from the “cause”/non-profit. Objective: To provide a balance in class discussion, which can easily become primarily focused on controversies, by examining it from the perspective of the cause. Invite a guest speaker(s) from a local non-profit organization or a “cause” that engages in CRM activities. Ask them to discuss: their decision to use CRM as a fundraising approach process—factors considered; the process involved in selecting a corporate partner and determining the specifics of the relationship; the benefits/downsides of CRM; etc.


1. Informal Q & A: Are “likes,” and other “approval indicators” (retweets, followers, shares) important to you? Objective: to discover the students’ relationships with social media, strategies for gaining “approval, and generally assessing how they are alike or different from the adolescents portrayed in Generation Like.

2. View “Generation Like. The film (53:41) can be viewed as a classroom activity or you might “flip the classroom” and ask students to watch it independently. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages; select which option will work best in your situation. Viewing in-class allows you to view a segment, pause and discuss particular points. This will typically require more than one class period. Alternatively, the documentary can be viewed in its entirety with discussion following, though this leaves little time for discussion in a :75 class.

If viewed independently outside of class, ask students to complete a “preparation task” that will get at the key points you want to emphasize in the discussion. For example:

In the preparation task for this documentary, I invite you first to write whatever your thoughts might be upon viewing the film. Then, please respond briefly to three questions:

  • This documentary is about youth media culture….but is it primarily about teens? social media? marketing? or something else?
  • Is the film criticizing social media? marketers? teen culture? or something else?
  • Is the film’s representation fair?
  • is marketing culture distinguishable from Internet Culture? Why or why not?

Some may find it useful to ask students to view Rushkoff’s 2001 PBS documentary,Merchants of Cool (58:26). Though obviously dated, it provides a snapshot of conscious development of a media culture, and tackles issues of image construction, identity and authenticity, media consolidation, the commercial nature of the media, and media culture and troubles the advertising/media-as-mirror-or-as-shaper debate. This might best be viewed outside of class as a preliminary jump start to the Generation Like documentary.

3. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21stObjective: to examine participatory culture from a viewpoint somewhat broader than the commercial perspective offered in Generation Like. An excellent counterbalance, and introduction to social ethical issues related to the so-call “digital revolution.” This is the John D. and Katherine T MacArthur Foundation report, directed by Henry Jenkins. Particular portions of the 72-page report that may be particularly insightful are: “Executive Summary;” “Three Core Problems: Why We Should Teach Media Literacy,” and “Enabling Participation.”

A quick video (2:51), “The New Media Literacies,” is useful in encouraging students to think about the media literacy skills necessary to navigate today’s participatory culture.


Part 2, Chapters 7 and 8 (hyperlinks in text below to movies have been removed)


Little Miss Sunshine : Watch streaming on Vimeo | Download

File Name: Little_Miss_ Sunshine_chap.7_minutes.3.31.mp4

Principal Cast: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Paul Dano

Movie Description: A dramatic comedy about a family’s road trip to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California.

Rating: Rated R.

Scene Description: Beauty pageants for children promote thin as beautiful. Seven year-old Olive competes in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. The clip begins with the contests being introduced. All the contestants are too thin and wear too much makeup. They contract sharply to Olive’s chubby, little-girl physique. At the end of the clip, Olive begins to feel self-conscious about her body because it doesn’t fit the norm being revered by the audience and beauty pageant judges.

Application: Case 29. Fashion magazines and models are encouraging young girls to view thin as beautiful. This is illustrated in Little Miss Sunshine when Olive feels insecure because she is normal and not too thin like the other contestants.

Running time: 3 minutes 31 seconds.

DVD Location/time: Chapter 19 – 1 hour and 19 minutes


30Rock Season One: Episode: Jack-Tor : Watch streaming on Vimeo |Download

File Name: 30_Rock.chap.8_minutes.2.mp4

Principle Cast: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan

Rating: Not Rated

Movie Description: A TV-sitcom about the writers and actors of a live comedy show, The Girlie Show (TGS), in Rockefeller Center.

Scene Description: NBC executive Jack Donaghy urges the writers of the comedy show TGS to feature GE products in their skits. Donaghy says product placement is the wave of the future. The writes of TGS reject product placement as an infringement on their creative freedom while at the same time they do a product placement bit for Snapple.

Application: The clip illustrates how advertisers are trying to show their products to people through television and movies, subconsciously drawing attention to a product by having actors use it as part of the script. The clip is an example of how product placement is used in the media.

Running time: 2 minutes.

DVD Location/time: Disc 1, Episode 5, opening scene

The Insider (Clip Two): Watch streaming on Vimeo | Download

File Name: The_Insider_no.2_chap.3_8_minutes.3.38.mp4

Principle Cast: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, and Christopher Plummer

Rating: R

Movie Description: Based on a true story, the film chronicles 60 Minutes attempt to blow the whistle on the tobacco industry with the help of tobacco insider, Jeffrey Wigand’s (Crowe) help.

Scene Description: Lowell Bergman, a producer for 60 Minutes, is incredibly frustrated with CBS’ attempts to keep some information about big tobacco out of the show’s segment. CBS suggests 60 Minutes air an edited version of Wigand’s interview so the corporation can avoid a multi-billion dollar lawsuit from the tobacco industry. Bergman releases this information to The New York Times because he feels CBS has tried to censor information the public has a right to know about.

Application: The media is a for profit industry. Thus, there can arise conflicts between news editors and corporate executives when certain stories seem to present more of a liability to the company than a profit. In the case of the 60 Minutes story CBS felt the welfare of its news empire was at risk if the story ran the unedited interview. The producer of 60 Minutes felt the corporation was censoring the news shows. Does news media have a duty to present the truth to the public? Can a balance be struck between corporate and public interest or will this tension always exist?

Running time: 3 minutes 38 seconds

DVD Location/time: Chapter 25, two hours fifteen minutes and 34 seconds

Cartoons | Graphics | Illustrations



Super Commercials
Why waste time watching Super Bowl football if you can fast forward to the commercials!

Cartoons about Consumerism
A series of cartoons satirizing the Western world’s consumerist society.

This Body for Rent
There’s a new way to make money while on the move: become a walking billboard.

Hypochondriac TV
In this cartoon, a television salesperson pitches drugs to cure those who are overly dependent on drugs.

This tongue-in-cheek cartoon illustrates how even families are facing pressure to adopt the discourse and culture of product advertising.

In Defense of Advertising to Children
In this cartoon, a toddler inspired by a TV commercial presents the ultimate argument for chomping down tasty, unwholesome snacks.

The Cause Marketing Bandwagon
A peek at a meeting of marketers laying out plans for a super profitable cause-marketing program.