We’re going to start talking about advertising this afternoon in my ethics class at Kent State. That’s always fun, particularly in a class with students who are majoring in news journalism, public relations and advertising. They bring very different perspectives to class discussions. Trust me.
And from past semesters many of the class discussions have centered on these topics: advertising aimed at children and taste and decency. For instance, here’s an ad we’ll talk about. And it comes by way of one of the students who wrote about it for a class assignment.
It involves an Equinox Fitness Center ad that features models dressed as nuns — and a naked man. Does it cross the line when it comes to taste and decency? Many think yes. You be the judge. It’s always interesting – and most times enlightening – to learn what the students think.
But while talking about advertising, we won’t look much at truth. The argument goes like this. An advertisement will most likely never disclose everything about a product or service. But as long as it is not deceptive or misleading, well then, OK. And if there is something dishonest, the government will step in with penalties and maybe more restrictive regulation. I would like to believe that advertisers would prefer to tell the truth — or at least not intentionally lie — rather than get their hands slapped or worse. But I guess that requires some sense of ethics.
Well here’s a situation that might illustrate those points. Apparently Dr. Robert Jarvik can’t row. And I’m concerned that maybe he can’t run either. Here’s why.
Jarvik invented the artificial heart. But more recently he has been the spokesperson for Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug produced by Pfizer. In several TV ads I’ve seen (not sure about print) there’s Jarvik (I thought) rowing across a lake and running with his son.
Dr. Jarvik says in one ad (and I’m taking this now from The New York Times article by Stephanie Saul):
“When diet and exercise aren’t enough, adding Lipitor significantly lowers cholesterol.”
OK, fair enough. But here’s the rub. The article in The Times says that the ad agency used a double for Jarvik in the rowing scene. So now a congressional committee will take a look at Jarvik and the ads to see if they are misleading. Wonder if it is the same committee that will be grilling Roger Clemens on Wednesday? Probably not.
If the story about Jarvik using a double in one of the ads is true, why didn’t someone at the ad agency say no? That seems like it would have been the ethically correct thing to do. Perhaps telling the truth at that stage would have been beneficial in the long run. We’ll see. Many of the students don’t believe that they will ever be faced with a decision like this. I hope that’s true. But probably not.
And here’s what caught my attention when I first read the article. I liked the ad where Jarvik (I hope) is out running with his son. Don’t know exactly why, but I was thinking about that while on the treadmill.
And I was thinking that maybe it is too bad that I don’t need Lipitor. Otherwise, maybe I could do the ad.
By the way, if you take the time to read The New York Times article, don’t quit until you get to the statement that Pfizer provided via e-mail. It’s a hoot. Spin anyone?