TED Conversations

Chairman, Crispin Porter + Bogusky


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Do the creators of advertising have any obligation other than to drive results for clients?

Clearly, a lot of people believe that intelligent, engaging advertising is also the most effective. But it's equally clear that a lot of people don't. Just watch TV.

Most broadcast advertising is still intrusive -- the audience doesn't seek it, it seeks them. Beyond the obvious responsibility to be effective for the client, do people who make ads have any responsibility to enlighten, inform or entertain the audience?

TED Initiatives – Ads Worth Spreading


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  • May 27 2011: For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the responses have been really thoughtful and interesting. Everyone who’s joined this conversation is obviously smart and informed, so I’ll try to be as well.
    The view that an advertising agency has one job and one job only – to generate results for their client – is easy to take and easy to defend. By the same logic, though, a logging company’s only job is to cut down as many trees as possible and a sub-prime mortgage lender’s only job is to generate as many sub-prime mortgages as possible. Those positions are also widely held (although perhaps less so since the recent economic meltdown). I think the problem is that those ideas represent one-dimensional thinking in an increasingly multi-dimensional world. No realistic person would argue that ad makers should sacrifice effectiveness for entertainment. But advertising is a part of popular culture, for better or worse. And for ad makers to consider the effect of their work – whether it will be interesting and enhancing or just more noise – seems to me to be, at the risk of sounding like Martha Stewart, a good thing.
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      May 27 2011: Hi Charles,
      I really have the sense that you tried to bring some good will into the Groupon ads and it didn't quite workout for you. After all ,the issues which are important to people would have been given really prime time premium advertising space for free. That's no small thing for many causes!
      I am wondering if you might have managed to pull it off it the presentation was the other way around? What I mean is if you had started with the light hearted idea- say Liz Hurley and her brazillian and the pain made her think of the real pain that the earth was experiencing in the rain forest? Of if Timothy Hutton had started out having the meal and its flavours and gathering with friends (maybe monks) could turn their mind to the beauty of Tibet.
      I would love to hear you thoughts but I understand if this might not be the venue. I have to say though in all the hub bubb it could have been a generous act in advertising.
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      May 28 2011: hey charles..thanks for stopping by and couldn't agree more..well said.
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      May 29 2011: I think we should be careful asking advertisers to be the guardians of culture. You can't really micromanage culture because it requires both the producer and the consumer to be in sync. Why put the burden on advertisers when you could just as easily lay this responsibility on television viewers by telling them they are ethically bound to shun stupid tv and avoid purchasing from poor advertisers.

      Also, how we decide what is noise and what is valuable culturally is really very difficult to do without the benefit of hindsight. A great book for perspective is Nicolas Slonimsky's 'Lexicon of Musical Invective' in which he quotes the culture bearers of earlier times getting it so completely wrong with music that it's funny. You can read none other than John Ruskin writing, "Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails…" A lot of ads that seemed ridiculously stupid in their day are nostalgia pieces that in hindsight seem very culturally relevant to their times.

      The most you can ask of advertisers is to not be cynical and not promote products that are bad for people. They should avoid propaganda and ads like those that claimed more doctors smoke Camels. They should have an ethic based on honesty not aesthetics. We should not ask them to be responsible for culture; good advertising will be in tune with existing culture, which will also make it relevant and effective.

      The comparison with logging and mortgage lenders is a bad idea. If advertisers following market forces can bring the same kind of harm to society as over-logging and predatory lending, the answer to that problem in a free market is regulation. I don't think that's an idea most advertisers are prepared to stand behind.
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        May 29 2011: no disagreement in this quarter mark and I like your elaboration of what we seem to be agreeing on...very helpful
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      May 31 2011: Hi Charles, and thanks for posting the question.
      But hey!!!
      Er, you're changing your question now! You're saying that for us to consider the implications of our Creative output is a good thing. Of course I agree with that. Anything I do in life, I want to do consciously, and with thought to the feelings of others, and every little thing we do touches someone in some way.
      BUT that is totally different from saying I have a responsibility to think about others apart from my client.
      I can think about them, I might want to go in the World, I might want our washing powder ad to inter-alia show a positive portrayal of a woman.... but it's not a Responsibility.
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        Jun 1 2011: It is prettty common practice on TED conversations for the question's author to ask follow up question so that greater clarification can be obtained.

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