Which is all problematic, because it leaves us with the question: why NOT be bad, then? Why not advertise however we want, for whomever we can find to pay us? The only answer I can give is: go home for Christmas and try to talk about what you do - all of advertising, not just the cog that is your part - with a straight face, with your head up. If you find that you can’t, then it’s time to reaffirm your beliefs around the industry. What it is, what it should be.
The morality question is so good at not being thought of. But my brother’s halfway through an advertising course; it looks like he’ll become a strategist. And there was a five-month overlap where I simultaneously wrote posters for the Gatwick Airport expansion campaign, and lyrics for the Green Party Election broadcast. You gotta wonder sometimes - where do you draw the line?
I went to the ASA codes of conduct, and the DMA guidelines, but they felt too much like a checklist. It was possible to imagine an advert that ticked every regulatory box that was still patronising, insipid and regressive - and boring. These codes are important, but they’re focused on individual pieces of the puzzle. They’re not ideals we can take on personally, then share in common. Just like any good brand idea, we need something with less detail but more substance, something open-ended enough to be accessible for everyone who earns advertising money. Something you could swear by on day one, and judge your actions against on day one thousand. We need our very own sacred vows.
What would you put into them? The Hippocratic Oath, that famous code of best practice that medical professionals worldwide swear by, is brilliant because it covers not just what not to do, but why that matters (with great power comes great responsibility). Crucially, like any good advert, it mentions what’s in it for the user - the warm glow of doing right, the sense of comradeship that comes with holding values in common. So we’ll nick that, for a start.
But to me, the two big topics you’d want to address with your vows are how to advertise, and who to advertise for. We have a nice shorthand for the how - legal, decent, honest and truthful. But these need to be sharpened by an understanding of who our message will reach, and what something like decency means to that person. “Beach Body Ready?” is an unfair challenge to put in front of an unsuspecting public - it’s not right to prey on a weakness people don’t know they have: