Do Goodvertising and Purposeful Communication need a Code of Ethics?


Philanthropy, CSR and purposeful communication have at least one goal in common: to Do Well to consumers who, directly or indirectly, are addressing to. But is it always so? Through the analysis of the communication strategies that have recently adopted Pordue Pharma, British Petroleum and Burger King, we try to understand if there is a virtual limit beyond which not only the ‘ purposeful ‘ campaigns (guided by a ‘ high ‘ purpose’) are no longer effective for companies that adopt them, but they are also potentially harmful to consumers.


Philanthropy Or Reputation Laundering?


Recently the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, New York, was the protagonist of a protest against its financing by the Sackler family, at the Head Of pordue Pharma, which markets the OxyContin. A Few days after Columbia University and the University of Washington, which have both received donations from the Sacklers in the past, have announced that they will no longer accept grants from the family.

What is behind this protest?


The American photographer Nan Goldin, who claimed to have become addicted To The OxyContin after the pills were prescribed, leads the protest along with other artists and activists against the campaigns of cultural philanthropy claiming that accepting funding from owners from similar companies makes cultural institutions accomplices of their damage.

The Eight members of the Sackler family are accused of intentionally minimizing the dangers Of Taking OxyContin painkillers (seemingly more potent than heroin or morphine) and deceiving doctors into the prescription of excessive doses for many patients who would never have to take that type of drug, considered today co-responsible for the opioid crisis that is killing more than 100 people a Day in America and has generated millions of Addicts.

The opioids are not the only epidemic that is devastating America despite being (still) one of the most economically performing Countries “By most accounts, Americans should be happier now than ever,” Writes Jean M. Twenge, co-author Of the Report ‘ World Happiness’ Published March 20, 2019, which monitors the level of happiness of the citizens of 156 countries in the world. “The violent crime rate is low, as is the unemployment rate. Income per capita has steadily grown over the last few decades. ” Yet The Americans are sad.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the SDSN, and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, co-author of the Report, explained in these terms the phenomenon:

My argument is that the U.S. is suffering an epidemic of addictions, and that these addictions are leaving a rising Portion of American society unhappy and a rising number clinically lonely.

The fact that at the Guggheneim Museum and other cultural institutions have accepted the subsidies of Pordue Pharma under the guise of a philanthropic action with the twofold aim of ‘ bringing the general public closer ‘ and diverting attention from their responsibilities, with an effect of ‘ reputation laundering ‘[3] , is cause for concern.

Activists @British Museum against BP sponsorship

This of the Guggenheim is not an isolated case, many will remember the long-standing partnership between British Museum And British Petroleum, which recently (and for the umpteenth time) was the protagonist of a protest. At the center of the controversy the exhibition “I Am Ashurbanipal“, with finds that the protesters claimed to have been taken from Today’s Iraq during the Ottoman era. The banners of the event said “colonialism crisis” and “stolen items“. So also for BP the philanthropic sponsorship of the British Museum has become a constant cause for concern.

And even more worrying is the intercession (unconsciously?) an institution such as the British Museum or the Guggenheim are pushed to do to get the funds to survive. I get to ask if the price they apply is worth the game. And if it is acceptable to the State that culture remains alive thanks to the ‘soulwashing ‘

Back to addictions.

As is well analyzed in Chapter 7 of the addiction And Unhappiness report In America  The concept of addiction was originally applied by psychologists and public health specialists mainly or exclusively to substances such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, opioids (natural and synthetic), and other drugs. More recently, many psychologists have come to regard various behaviors as potential addictions as well. Such addictive behaviors include gambling; social media; video games; shopping; unhealthy foods; exercise; extreme sports; risky sexual behaviors, and others. Such behaviors may become compulsive, with individuals pursuing them to excess, despite the awareness of their harmful nature to the individuals themselves and to those around them (including family and friends).


Shopping, Eating, Doing Exercise Hurts An American Out Of Two


According to the Sussman report[2] about half of the American population suffers from an addiction, so much as to introduce the concept of “addiction Epidemic” and label American Society as “Mass Dependence Society”. Dependency behaviors and personal unhappiness have comorbidities with depressive disorders and other mood disorders; In addition to the abuse of substances, illicit behavior and a general state of discomfort and stress.

The overcoming of the idea of dependence on a “substance” (opioids, alcohol, tobacco…) and the introduction of the concept of “behavior addiction” is an absolute novelty. The point is all in the abuse, rather than in the use: working too Much (Workaolism), excessive physical activity, compulsive shopping, ‘ screen addiction ‘, SEX addiction,  working too much (especially in a competitive society as the American one) are not (yet) stigmatized as deleterious, as it is unthinkable that  physical activity or the use of the Internet or sex could be detrimental too. Yet These activities can cause-when they turn into dependencies-the total loss of control. Some theories hypothesize that: “Self-control in general is a exhaustible resource and once exhausted (due to stress, anxiety or other reasons) the result are shortsighted and impulsive decisions. In general terms, stress of various kinds leads to exhaustion, which leads to addictive behavior. “

Within the concept of “behavior addiction”  we can also find  food behaviors, which potentially can affect the entire population, both in terms of consumption and production. In fact, studies show that  the increasing availability of food do not correspond to a decrease in the voracious attitude typical of when this availability was not there (Lee Goldman Too Much of a Good Thing 2015). Moreover, it is known that, in order to make its products more desirable, food companies put additives (e.g. sugar and salt) that create addictive behaviors towards that food (A. Alter 2017 ” Irresistible: The Rise Of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked)

And so now : Burger King.

Fast Food Now In ‘ Sustainable ‘ Version

On March 31, Burger King launched a ‘ taste-test ‘ video that measured the reaction of Whopper’s ‘ fanatics ‘ while tasting the Impossible Burger, a meatless hamburger.

It Would seem that the objective of the introduction on the market (for now fifty restaurants in the USA) of the Impossible Burger is not to satisfy a niche of vegetarian/vegan public, but to satisfy the need of carnivorous consumers more and more attentive to their environmental impact. Many commentators welcomed the introduction of this product innovation (both from the point of view of the competitive advantage towards the main rival MC Donalds, and from the point of effectiveness on reducing environmental impact). However, some studies carried out On The impossible Burger, sold for more than one Year By impossible Foods, a company in which  Google And Bill Gates invested  among others, would show that the ingredient at the basis of the innovation (the Leg-hemoglobin) is a protein produced from genetically modified yeast cells, never tested before on the human organism and not officially approved by the FDA (US Food And Drug Administration) . If It is premature to predict the effects on human health and the environment, it is simple to understand that this is not a healthy choice: to achieve the same taste pleasure, the Impossible Burger is rich in saturated fats (+ 60%, because of coconut oil) and It contains almost six times the sodium of a beef burger.

In Short, rather than facing a momentous change in the eating habits of millions of Americans ( consuming 280 grams of proteins per DAY against the recommended 150 – hence the hypothesis of an addiction), the answer seems to be the introduction Of an alternative with unknown health effects (but equally impacting the diet) with the motivation of a more sustainable choice. All driven by a highly persuasive (but not very transparent) communication campaign

Unfortunately, it seems no one can feel immune to some form of addiction (hence the term epidemic used by the author Of Chapter 7 Of Report World Happiness Jeffrey D. Sachs). And from this perception to the  salience and relevance of the subject.

A question arises: The basis of the purposeful communication or goodvertising (advertising that do good – whether developed through actions of philanthropy, or CSR or with digital persuasive campaigns but non-informative) shouldn’t be a code of ethics?


Article written in collaboration with Stefano Serafinelli, clinical Psychologist, mindfulness intervention trainer.

Foto: Guggenheim Museum rebranding / 2019
By kissMiklos


[3] “There’s the question about whether Yale or any other university wants to be complicit in the reputation laundering of the donor. And at the very minimum there is that negative to put on the ledger of whatever good could be done with the gift.” Rob Reich, professor of ethics, Stanford University

Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.