Saturday, May 12, 2012

Advertising's Decline in Morals

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During the past two decades we have seen a change in the morals and values instilled upon generation after generation. The ethics and traditions our parents were raised to follow and practice have slowly disappeared from the greater part of society. Many elements have factored this change. The evolution of technology has certainly been a major contributor; also the underlying reality of how the advertising industry, interweaved into every facet of our lives, acts as a significant source of information.

Advertising is a crucial staple of the world’s economic system. While spending more than two hundred billion dollars annually to promote products, financial gain is the driving force of the industry. Vendors wanting to boost business needed a way to introduce and sell their products to the public. Marketing began as a method used to make products appealing; however, the dilemma with advertising is that the industry is not primarily concerned with the content of information put forth. Companies have willingly compromised ethics in pursuance of greater financial wealth. The revenue generated as a result of marketing tactics measures the bottom line and amount of success.

Advertising has seamlessly integrated itself into our lives and whether we accept or reject the idea, it is a very powerful tool. Its influence plays a major role in determining the outcome of decisions we make. How we perceive social status, our lifestyles and ourselves, have been to some extent shaped by the continuous stream of information we encounter daily.

Unnecessary tactics are used to attract our attention, often sending negative messages to the public. The average person views up to twenty commercials on television per hour. And while some are clever, most leave me to wonder what the manufacture intended me to purchase. Was it the car displayed the last two seconds of the commercial or was it the male model sprawled across the car?

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We have become a society that glorifies violence and disobedience; immoral and unethical behaviors have escalated beyond both reason and control. Athletes looked upon as roll models, re-enter drug rehabilitation centers time after time. No actions are taken to reprimand them; there are no realistic consequences for ill behavior. Male and female models take drugs or starve themselves sacrificing their health to maintain the perfect image. Millions have developed lung cancer and died from the affects of long-term smoking, a campaign the advertising industry spent countless hours and dollars promoting, yet the tobacco industry denies any wrongdoing. The main correlation of the above-mentioned facts is that marketing strategies are overwhelmingly geared toward appealing to the younger generation. What message do we send to youth when we compromise what is right in order to make a dollar? How effective are advertisers who bait us with sex or celebrities in getting the public to purchase their products?

A brief study of the advertising industry shows us that historically, the first accredited adverting agency opened in the city of Philadelphia, in eighteen hundred-thirty nine formed by Volney B. Palmer, yet the evolution of the industry can be traced back to three thousand B.C. during the Babylonian civilization. The Babylonian’s used advertising store front signs and street markers, as a means of promoting their business services. Kings were allowed to stencil their names on temples showing others their financial contribution or connection to monumental projects they had aided. Information was passed amongst villages verbally by pitchmen until 155 A.D. when the Germans produced the first known pamphlets printed on paper and distributed to the public.

The popularity of print ads grew drastically over the next three centuries. The Industrial Revolution of the 1700’s introduced us to the way we currently conduct business. Machines relieved menial tasks; ads in publications were no longer created by hand, which allowed more efficient use of time and money. With print press machines manufactures were able to increase production of newspapers distributed per day from a few thousand copies to over several million per day.

Since most newspaper enterprises were small staffed and unable to keep up with consumer demand, the industry expanded hiring more people with specific job responsibilities. The responsibility of the advertising agent was to seek business from vendors by creating ads that promoted their businesses. Ad agents charged up to fifty percent of the original cost of the space. Concerned with the reputation of the industry, George P. Rowell created a space rate policy to legitimize agents.

As the industry underwent many changes, it was hard to keep up with competitors. Development of new products, such as color printing, made advertisers compete against one another. James B. Duke launched one of the first marketing strategies the tobacco industry. Pieces of cardboard were inserted into packs of cigarettes, to stiffen the box. Duke used the cards (what we know as trading cards) to print the brand name of the cigarettes along with a picture of celebrities and historical or educational information. The cards were issued as a series meant to be collected. The idea was successful, boosting sales of cigarettes tremendously. However, Duke’s father was concerned about the use of these cards. In a letter dated October 17th, 1884 he wrote

“My dear Son,

I have received the enclosed letter from the Rev. John C. Hocutt, and I am very much impressed with the wisdom of his argument against circulating lascivious photographs with cigarettes, and have made up my mind to bring the matter to your attention in the interest of morality, and in the hope that you can invent a proper substitute for these pictures which will answer your requirements as an advertisement as well as an inducement to purchase. His views are so thoroughly and plainly stated that I do not know how that I can add anything except to state that they accord with my own, and that I have always looked upon the distribution of this character of advertisement as wrong in its pernicious effects upon young man and womanhood, and therefore has not jingled with my religious impulses. Outside of the fact that we owe Christianity all the assistance we can lend it in any form, which is paramount to any other consideration, I am fully convinced that this mode of advertising will be used and greatly streghten [sic, strengthen] the arguments against cigarettes in the legislative halls of the States. I hope you will consider this carefully and appreciate my side of the question. It would please me very much to know that a change had been made.”
This letter is proof that the tactics of advertising were questionable years ago.

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