Can Agency Culture Foster an Ethical Mindset? by TAI Professor Dr. Sidharth Muralidharan
Business ethics can be broadly defined as a brand’s moral obligations to their stakeholders, employees, consumers, competition, and society at large. Ethics operates at a higher plane than law and motivates brands to think beyond just meeting the minimal legal requirements. In advertisements, ethical considerations can manifest by providing honest and truthful information about products and services, by not being offensive, or culturally distasteful. Being in a position of influence, the expectation for a brand to abide by a moral code can never be perceived as a choice but a duty. This moral duty rests not only in the hands of the advertiser but also the hired advertising agency.
The ad agency is an organization where the blending of business and creativity occurs seamlessly. In such a competitive environment where both advertisers and agencies are driven by the motive of earning more profits, the emphasis placed on ethics, unfortunately, diminishes. Lapses in ethical judgment can negatively impact the brand in terms of lower sales, negative brand image, and can end the relationship between the agency and the client. For example, in 1991 Volvo and its agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves Inc. of New York was each fined $150,000 for their deceptive ad. The commercial depicted a monster truck that ran over a line of cars, and the only car to survive was a Volvo station wagon. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found the ad to be deceptive because the body of the Volvo was specially strengthened to withstand the impact and a regular Volvo was not equipped with a similar shell. Knowing that the demonstration did not truly represent the product, the agency still decided to move forward with the campaign, posing an ethical lapse. Granted, agencies are under the influence of their clients but the question remains, can an agency still come out with a creative ad that is both effective and morally sound?
The answer is yes. To overcome such setbacks, agencies need to foster a culture of ethics and responsibility. This should be initiated from the very top, where, leaders are setting an example and having employees not only be a part but also take ownership of the culture. A good example could be the agency ‘Enviromedia’ based in Austin, TX. The main mission of the agency is to make the world a better place to live in and help brands make profits. Championing this vision is the CEO and Founder – Valerie Salinas-Davis, who has created strategies for campaigns such as “Don’t Mess with Texas” and the eco-friendly Nissan Leaf, to name a few. Being a B-Corporation, the agency has set high standards to achieve both social and environmental goals. As per their website, the agency has contributed $1 million in pro-bono work and volunteer time to different charities. The agency headquarters has sustainable features like solar panels and water saving functionalities, while employees recycle and use recycled materials. Enviromedia is selective of who they work with, making sure their culture and values align with their clients and is propagated through the campaigns they create. From the causes they support to providing employees with paid time off, Enviromedia has shown that their belief system can foster an ethical mindset. If the industry is filled with more agencies that have a strong moral compass then it helps put pressure back onto brands to achieve their bottom line through ethical channels.
This July, TAI Professor Dr. Hye Jin Yoon travelled to Tokyo, Japan for the 2017 American Academy of Advertising Global Conference. With her co-author Dr. Hongmin Ahn, she presented a paper titled, “When Two Worlds Collide – The Dark Triad Personality and the Humor in Comedic Violence Ads.”
“AAA partnered with Waseda University and held sessions on its vibrant campus,” Yoon said. “The conference started with a keynote speech from Yoshito Maruoka, President and COO of Dentsu Digital Inc. and ended with a tour of Tokyo with a visit to Mt. Fuji. Many advertising and marketing scholars from the United States, Europe, and other Asian countries attended the conference.”
Dr. Yoon has been published in the Journal of Advertising, Journal of Business Research, International Journal of Advertising, Journal of Health Communication, Health Communication, Journal of Advertising Research, and Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, among others. She teaches Advertising Media, International Advertising, and Quantitative and Qualitative Research at SMU.
Temerlin Advertising Institute alumna Karissa Jobman (’13) is combining her advertising acumen and love of travel through Bucket, a startup aimed to boost tourism activities in Quito, Ecuador and other developing cities. About Bucket
“Bucket started out of a vision to share the culture of Latin America with the world by making tourism more accessible to international markets” says Jobman. This vision came to her and fellow co-founder, Daniel Pino, through a serendipitous meeting while the two were working for Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas. In October 2014, their vision became a reality when Quito’s Tourism Bureau selected Bucket as a recipient of their tourism innovation competition.
Bucket’s purpose is to promote tourism in developing cities through partnerships with the top attractions in each city, providing technologically accessible, discounted, convenient ways to travel the world. Bucket combines entrance tickets to the top attractions in each partner city, offering one Bucket Pass with full access to each attraction at a discounted price. Travelers can purchase the pass online or by mobile device. The Bucket app also features attraction information and trips.
Bucket launches today, July 23, in Quito, Ecuador. Tickets go on sale August 10.
About Jobman Karissa Jobman came to SMU from Omaha, Nebraska to study advertising at the Temerlin Advertising Institute. She first visited South America through the Alternative Breaks program to Ecuador, then spent a semester of her junior year studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Jobman graduated from SMU with a BA in Advertising in December 2013. After graduation she interned with Southwest Airlines in the Community Affairs and Grassroots department, where she met her Bucket co-founder. As the CPO of Bucket, Jobman uses her advertising expertise to create an enhanced digital experience, as well as manage the brand and product development of the company.
The first year MA in Advertising students spent the second week of their global immersion in both Hong Kong and Macau. The week started with an informative guest lecture by Dr. Kara Chan on Branding in Asia followed by an interesting visit to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Among many exhibits, the life story and accomplishments of Bruce Lee was a group favorite. Thursday had the group meeting with the McCann & Spencer Advertising Agency where they learned about the creative growth of advertising in Hong Kong while experiencing many famous advertising campaigns undertaken by McCann over the years.
The week ended with a trip to Macau for a guided tour by the Advertising and PR team of the Galaxy Entertainment Group. Phase II of the 1.1 million square meters property, that is home to six major hotels with casinos, shopping and recreational facilities for families and VIP members, opened on May 27, 2015.
Saturday the students enjoyed a day tour of the famous sites of Macau such as the Ruins of Saint Paul’s Church, the Macau tower and the A-Ma Temple. Saturday night found the group experiencing the cultural blending of East and West while enjoying The House of Dancing Water show at the City of Dreams. This amazing show was directed by Franco Dragone (former director of Cirque du Soleil) and weaves cultural symbols and a love story through death-defying stunts, acrobatics, ballet, diving and water explosions.
Stay tuned for more to come from Week 3 as the group visits with OMD and enjoys some social time with a group of advertising students visiting Hong Kong from Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia.
After fall and spring courses in advertising, TAI first year MA in Advertising students are off to Hong Kong for the month of June. They take International Advertising, while having guest lectures on Chinese culture and advertising in Asia from professors in Hong Kong. They also undertake cultural tours and agency visits to learn about the advertising industry in Hong Kong as well as the greater Asian region.
During their first week, they have hiked at The Peak, enjoyed a traditional Dim Sum lunch, visited the Hong Kong History Museum and spent a few hours with MAXUS, a GroupM Company in Quarry Bay, Hong Kong. At MAXUS, the students learned the ins and outs of media in Hong Kong. They were fortunate enough to have an hour long presentation by Ms. Moon Cheng, Maxus’ Strategic Director. Stay tuned for more highlights from Hong Kong and their global immersion experience.
Temerlin Advertising Institute graduate students tour the Starcom Media Vest offices in Hong Kong. Meeting with the Hong Kong advertising executives is an amazing opportunity for students to learn how culture impacts advertising decisions in Asia and they felt welcomed by the wonderful group at Starcom Media Vest.
With the help of Dr. Kara Chan of Hong Kong Baptist University, Dr. Carrie La Ferle organizes multiple visits to agencies while teaching International Advertising in Hong Kong during the summer. The students are learning, living, and taking in as many cultural experiences as possible.