Tonight, I watched AMC’s Mad Men for the first time. (I know, a guy that loves advertising should have started watching Mad Men a long time ago.) One thing that grabbed me during the episode, other than the somewhat-shocking authenticity of women’s role in the workplace and in marriage, was Don Draper’s first monolouge.
Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car… It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay.
Don Draper is an advertising executive working on the agency’s Lucky Strike account. The cigarrette company was in the midst of a crisis, as news had recently been released linking smoking to lung cancer and other risks. Facing a disaster, Lucky Strike turned to their advertising agency for help.
The conclusion that Don Draper made not only garnered many congratulations and words of great praise, but also established one of the basic principles of advertising. It didn’t matter how unhealthy cigarrettes were, how healthy consumers percieved cigarrettes to be did.
That was the basis for the Lucky Strike campaign that deemed all other brands “poisonous,” while their cigarrettes were “toasted.” Draper’s idea spawned confidence in his client that their advertising would get them through a difficult time. In me, however, it only spawned a debate on the ethics of Advertising.
The goal of an advertiser or marketer is to get an audience to take a specific action. It may be in the form of buying a product, subscribing to a newsletter, increasing attendance at an event or gaining donations. But the goal of a responsible advertiser would be slightly different: to get an audience to take a specific action in an ethical manner.
That difference would have changed a few things for Lucky Strike. They would not have simply claimed that their cigarrettes were any less dangerous to smoke than their competitors while being completely aware that all cigarrettes at the time were made in the exact same way.
I think that it was unethical to send a message to consumers that their products weren’t as dangerous as they actually were. Despite the success they may have achieved shortly after the campaign, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to a company to have a reputable relationship with its customers?
It seems to me that, at least in the Mad Men version, advertising was about deception and manipulation in order to make a quick profit. Fortunately, tools like Social Media have made it easier for businesses to form a relationship with customers and gain their trust and loyalty, which seems like a happier way to advertise to me.