This document I dug up recently couldn't have resurfaced at a better time! It's a well-thought out speech delivered at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the World Federation of Advertisers, held in Brussels in October 2003. Here's an excerpt from the speech that was voted best of the Conference:
Ethics in Advertising
Sound advertising makes useful products and services known; it contributes to wider employment; it educates the public; in so many ways, it contributes to raising the standard of living; it promotes understanding and tolerance.
On a more profound level, I would like to discuss with you several principles and concerns.
‘Being is better than having’
The first principle is: Being is better than having.
There are some people who think that if they don’t have the fanciest car or the latest shoes or the shirt with the correct logo, they are “out of it,” not worthy of the esteem of their peers.
You and I know that “being is better than having,” that our essential God-given human dignity is not based upon the possessions which we have. We also know that our dignity is enhanced not by the shirt we wear or the car we drive but by the virtues we manifest and by our authenticity and integrity.
I think you, as advertisers, face a terrible dilemma: you obviously want to sell your product or service, but very few of you, I am convinced, want to make people feel bad or unworthy if they cannot afford to buy the product or service you are advertising.
In short, in your advertising, try not to put poor people down, even subconsciously.
Emphasize quality, emphasize efficiency, emphasize even better grooming and cleanliness and good appearance – but please do not suggest that a possession is going to make one person better than another person.
Perhaps not one of you even or ever intends to communicate that message, but that is the message which some people receive, and some young people, in particular, wind up with a very poor self image; not because of who they are but because of what they do not or cannot afford.
Truth is or at least should be a basic principle in advertising as in all communication, and a basic truth for all of us to consider is that being is prior to and indeed essentially better than having.
Treat each person with respect
A second principle is: Each person must be treated with respect.
It frankly surprises me that, as women rightly fight for equality of treatment in politics and in business, they are still so often exploited in the media in general and in advertising in particular as objects, as sex symbols. Such exploitation has now apparently been extended to men as well.
Thus, while no one would deny the justifiable attraction of love and romance in life, I think we should all resent being treated as objects rather than as persons. We resent it as employees if we are treated as factors of production rather than as persons; we can resent it in advertising if individuals depicted are portrayed as objects rather than as persons and, indeed, if we – the audience of consumers – are treated as so many numbers to be reached instead of as persons to whom an important message is to be communicated.
I would hope that communication in general, including and perhaps especially advertising, would keep in mind the priority of the dignity of the human person: the dignity of the persons portrayed, the dignity of the individual members of the audience to be reached.
- Archbishop John P. Foley
President, Pontifical Council for Social Communications
A copy of Ethics in Advertising in its entirety can be found here