Do Goodvertising and Purposeful Communication Need a Code of Ethics?Read More
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 by consumers who, directly or indirectly, are being addressed. But is it always so? Through the analysis of the communication strategies that the companies Purdue Pharma, British Petroleum, and Burger King have recently adopted, we will try to understand whether 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 whether they are also potentially harmful to consumers.
Philanthropy Or Reputation Laundering?
Recently the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, New York, was at the center of a protest against its financing by the Sackler family, the head of Purdue Pharma, which markets OxyContin. A few days afterwards, Columbia University and the University of Washington, which have both received donations from the Sacklers in the past, 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 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 prescribing excessive doses for many patients who would never have had to take the drug. OxyContin is now considered co-responsible for the opioid crisis that is killing more than 100 people a day in America and has generated millions of addicts.
Opioids are not the only epidemic devastating America, despite the U.S. being one of the highest economically performing countries today. “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 Americans are sad.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and 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 the Guggheneim Museum and other cultural institutions have accepted the subsidies of Purdue 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 “ , is cause for concern.
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 subject of a protest. At the center of the controversy was the exhibition “I Am Ashurbanipal,” with the protesters claimed to have been taken from contemporary Iraq during the Ottoman era. The banners of the event said “colonialism crisis” and “stolen items.” So for BP the philanthropic sponsorship of the British Museum has become a constant cause for concern.
And even more worrying is the (unconscious?) intercession 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 Repor 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 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
 “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