The recent special double issue of Newsweek magazine (3/26/12 and 4/2/12) has done a stellar job celebrating Mad Men and the 1960s golden age of advertising.  Over the last couple weeks, I have addressed numerous aspects of the TV series and the advertising business.  Somehow, I don’t think Mad Men or advertising will ever leave us wanting for material!

In addition to these posts, we should not avoid examining the ethics of advertising.  Viewers of Mad Men well know the numerous amount of footage given to heavy smoking and drinking as the norm.  The program certainly reminded us of the 1960s atmosphere when knowledge of the negative health effects of tobacco use was limited.  Simultaneously, we observed the advertising industry in its symbiotic relationship with the ad agencies while sowing the seeds of cancer among tobacco users.  Mad Men does not moralize on the issue of heavy tobacco and alcohol use, but it certainly puts it in front of us along with some of the consequences.

The statistics tell us today the tobacco industry is the only industry that kills 400,000 of its best customers annually.  How’s that for a business plan?  What’s wrong with this picture?

Looking at advertising today, each person must decide how he or she will handle the advertising world.  Each business must decide what its moral and ethical parameters will be.  Although there is much in the advertising world that is legitimately deemed ethically positive or ethically neutral, that does not equate to an absence of ethical negatives.  Of these there are many.

For example, how much of the growing epidemic of anorexia and bulimia is directly or indirectly encouraged via the kind of images the advertising community displays?  How many broken homes, relationships, and lives can be linked to alcohol, tobacco, or gambling?  How much training do parents give their children about how to interpret what they see in the media?  How much does the sexualization of children contribute to warped self-images among children and developing adults?  As business owners and operators, can we sleep peacefully at night knowing exactly what our companies support?

Please understand, I am asking more questions than I am answering.  My point is these are serious matters we must ponder deeply.  Out of that deep pondering, we may be inspired to make certain business, professional, and personal decisions.  Is this not what ethics means, if it means anything at all?

Advertising will always be with us.  Business is business—true.  Nevertheless, business without ethics will always be disastrous.

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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