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Big food companies try to get kid friendly January 26, 2014

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Almost 20 big food companies recently announced that they were adopting a new system that would make it easier to compare food values across products and brands. The group included the Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, Kellogg, Pepsi, Kraft, and many others. The companies also announced that products that couldn’t be in compliance would either be cut or not be advertised to kids. The move follows an effort by the group to cut sugar and other harmful ingredients to make them more kid friendly.

The self-regulation efforts by big food companies has been seen, too, in McDonald’s. The company recently announced that it would not (and has not for the most part) marketed to kids in schools, and even signed an agreement with the Clinton Foundation concerning how it would market soda products with Happy Meals.

For more on efforts to cut back on food products and their ads targeting kids, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why is the food industry engaging in so much self regulation concerning products traditionally targeting kids? What’s at stake if this self regulation does not happen?

2.  Is self regulation enough? Can big food companies prevent federal regulation of products traditionally targeting kids?

3.  Why food ads targeting kids so controversial? Why are they considered unethical by certain critics?

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The flight from hell: Epic PR fail by PR expert December 23, 2013

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Justine Sacco became widely known almost overnight. Undoubtedly, she wishes things worked out differently. Sacco was a PR executive for media company IAC, which manages websites for The Daily Beast, About.com, CollegeHumor, and Match.com. It’s surprising that a PR expert could be so foolish. Before boarding a flight from London to Cape Town in December 2013, Sacco wrote on her Twitter feed, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She then boarded. On a flight without internet or phone access. The flight was long. Just enough time for a scandal to explode.

Sacco’s tweet quickly went viral. Parody accounts were set up on Twitter and Facebook, and hashtags related to her dumb tweet were more popular than almost anything else on social media in that 24 hour span. Social media users scrounged through her previous statements to find other gems. And even though she had just hundreds of followers when she boarded, she had thousands when she landed. And by the time she did land, Sacco found that IAC had distanced itself from her, she was looking at unemployment, and hated by millions of people who learned about her through a shared tweet.

Sacco quickly deleted her social media accounts, and eventually released an apology claiming that she was deeply ashamed. Nevertheless, her incident has become yet another case study on the importance of avoiding shameful behavior on social media. Whatever is entered online, assume that the world can and maybe even will read it!

For a detailed hour by hour account of Sacco’s social media scandal, see the following article from Buzzfeed.com: CLICK HERE.

For more on this story, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How does an individual’s personal use of social media influence their public and work life?

2.  What are some basic guidelines for using social media?

3.  Should employers have the right to terminate employees who create controversy in private social media accounts? Why, or why not?

Same old song and dance? Advertising ethics and the e-cigarette November 29, 2013

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The use of e-cigarettes is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control. An estimated 4 million Americans now use e-cigarettes, and about 10 percent of high school students in 2012 reported they had tried them. The rise of e-cigarettes, which are supposed to help smokers quite the real thing, poses an interesting problem for regulators. While cigarettes have been banned from television ads since the 1970s, e-cigarettes can be advertised without many restrictions. The distinction between the products is that e-cigarettes generate vapor rather than tobacco smoke, and the Food and Drug Administration has not yet ruled whether they can be sold or marketed to minors.

For examples of e-cigarette ads, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What was the legal rationale for banning certain kinds of cigarette marketing? Should that rationale apply to e-cigarettes?

2.  If e-cigarette marketing should be regulated, what kind of regulations should it face?

3.  Is there anything ethically wrong with e-cigarette marketing in general?

Parents outraged: Willow Smith, 12, wants a summer fling July 13, 2013

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Willow Smith, daughter of entertainers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is out with a new music video for her song “Summer Fling.” Willow sings about how a summer fling is “just for a few months, but we do it anyway,” and appears in the video with much older boys and girls flirting with one another. For those who don’t know, a fling has sexual connotations, much like “hooking up.” Unsurprisingly, the love crazed single is angering many parents and experts on children. Speaking about the pre-teen’s new song, psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman argued recently, “It is not age-appropriate for a 12-year-old to be singing these kinds of lyrics or to be involved in a scenario like this. The argument may be that it’s pretend, but there is the psychological impact on her. Do you want your 12-year-old already seen as a sex symbol?” Another parenting expert, Robyn Siberman, was quoted in an article posted to Yahoo, saying, “A summer fling is usually used to describe something physical, sexual, with no long-term attachment. People don’t want to hear about 12-year-olds talking about good-night kisses. It feels out of place; too old and sexualized.”

Willow has some backers, though. Pop culture expert Jenn Hoffman is contending that the star’s critics are overreacting. Hoffman contended, “When I was 12 years old I was madly in love with my boyfriend. To tell me otherwise would be completely dismissive of the feelings I was going through at the time. Who are we to tell Willow Smith that she is too young to be feeling these things? In 2013 12 years old doesn’t seem too young for a legit summer fling.”

See Willow Smith’s controversial new video below:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Does the term “summer fling” really mean for Willow Smith what parents and child experts are saying it does?

2.  Do videos like Smith’s influence youth culture? If so, why does this worry parents?

3.  Is Smith’s video really all that different from anything else found on television or the radio?

Abercrombie & Fitch faces backlash for aspirational branding May 20, 2013

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Seven year ago Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries stated during an interview that his company strategically excluded certain customers. Jeffries stated:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

In a matter of words, Jeffries suggested that A&F intentionally avoided overweight customers, in addition to anyone else who might not be cool. Seven years later, after the comments were republished in another article, the internet exploded in outrage. Several stars have lashed out at the brand, and Jeffries was eventually forced to apologize. He stated, “While I believe this 7 year old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense.”

For more on A&F’s image crisis, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Is A&F being unethical in targeting certain young customers while excluding others?

2.  Why have the comments by Jeffries, made seven years ago, resurfaced with more impact?

3.  How might have Jeffries said the same thing in different words to avoid such harsh reactions?

The debatable ethics about “native advertising” April 3, 2013

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In the online world, “native advertising” is getting to be quite the big deal. In essence, native advertising means meshing branded messages into certain forms of media. This might include posting article-ads on news cites, funny video ads on humor sites, or Twitter and Facebook update ads. As Terry Thornton of PBS’s MediaShift summarized, “Instead of interrupting the flow like a typical TV commercial, pre-roll, pop-up or print ad, it blends into its surroundings and, in theory at least, offers the reader/viewer/listener something interesting.” The overall spending on these ads is growing quickly, Thornton added, growing faster than spending on all kinds of ads except viral videos.

Native advertising as a new trend is getting more popular, but more controversial especially among journalists. The main concern is that consumers of news and entertainment will have trouble distinguishing between advertising and content. While the thought seems ludicrous to advertisers, even many journalists say that they’ve been tricked by native ads.

For more on native advertising, see the following discussion from Mashable’s Media Summit:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is native advertising?

2.  What kinds of native advertising have you seen?

3.  Why is native advertising so controversial?

4.  Is native advertising unethical? Why, or why not?

The downside of humor: IKEA Thailand apologizes for ad poking fun of transgender people February 3, 2013

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IKEA Thailand released an apology following complaints about an ad poking fun of transgender people. The ad depicted a man and his girlfriend shopping at an IKEA store. The girlfriend’s voice drops when spotting a sale, and her partner runs away at the revelation that she is probably a man. A Thai group called the ad a “gross violation of human rights” that could spark violence against transgender people. In the corporation’s apology, IKEA Thailand’s marketing manager Gannrapee Chatchaidamrong said:

“We run many “spoof advertisements” where the friendly humor is intended to be an essential component. This was the intention in our campaign, where we also featured a number of different people from a spectrum of Thai society “forgetting themselves” when they are so surprised at the value of the prices in our sale.”

To see the ad yourself, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why is humor an effective strategy in marketing?

2.  What are the risks of humor?

3.  Did IKEA Thailand cross a line with the ad depicting a transgender girlfriend?

Not so long ago: Remembering classic cigarette ads January 5, 2013

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Just before Christmas, Advertising Age posted a story about classic cigarette ads, especially one that ran during the holiday season in the 1950s. The Lucky Strike ad referenced in the article featured the company’s classic slogan, “It’s toasted.” Moreover, and perhaps more shockingly, the spokesperson told consumers, “Friends, here’s a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone who smokes, because it says ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Smoking.'” Imagine the time: a time when advertisers could link happiness to smoking. It seems so foreign to us now.

Why don’t we see such ads today? While cigarettes have long been advertised in the United States – dating back to 1789 – the industry faced a crackdown in the 1964 when the US Surgeon General released a report linking smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, and other diseases. What ensued were mandatory warning labels and bans on radio and television ads. While the tobacco industry bounced back with alternative marketing strategies, including the use of cartoon characters in print ads to target younger consumers, the story of Big Tobacco is one of increased regulation.

To see the Lucky Strike ad referenced above, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What’s ethically wrong with this Lucky Strike advertisement? Why would you not see something like this today?

2.  How are marketers more limited today than ever before? Are these limitations a good thing?

3.  Should tobacco ads continue to be banned? Why, or why not?

Did Romney campaign cross the line with claims about “Jeeps made in China”? November 25, 2012

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In an act seen as clear desperation, the Romney campaign released a series of ads in October – just a few weeks before the election – claiming that “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.” The claim, along with the notion that Romney was the true defender of American jobs, was trashed by Fact Checkers, though. According to ABC News, the TV version of the ad was misleading. Fiat, the Italian parent company of Chrysler and Jeep, even released a statement calling Romney’s claims “unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments.”

With so many critics panning the ads about Jeeps made in China, one might expect that the Romney campaign would drop the claim. Not so. At the end of October the Romney campaign stepped up the attack, running new television ads repeating the claim. If voters believed it, the ads may have had their greatest impact in the swing state of Ohio, where the auto industry plays an important role in the local economy. However, the reverse was likely true. Before the election, one writer for The Washington Post wrote, “The audacity of this falsehood makes it easier for the Obama camp to raise doubts about Romney’s character, integrity, and honesty — and to make the case that Romney not only failed to support the bailout when Ohio needed it; he’s now lying extensively to cover it up.” Apparently, most voters in the Buckeye State did not take the bait.

For more on Romney’s Jeep ads, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What makes an advertisement deceptive?

2.  Was Romney’s ad really deceptive? Why, or why not?

3.  Should political campaigns be punished for running deceptive ads? Why, or why not?

Political ad spending tops $6 billion in 2012 November 23, 2012

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Political ad spending is through the roof yet again, as estimates place ad spending in the 2012 election – including congressional and presidential races – around $6 billion. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the presidential election accounted for $1 billion of that total, or about $42 per voter.

Perhaps the worst news for some critics is that so much of that spending came from special interest groups. Outside parties representing dirty energy sources especially spent more than $270 million on TV ads. More than 59,600 spots ran on oil, gas, and coal. As many of these groups backed Republicans, their bets essentially lost. As a sign of things to come, though, many Americans are clearly frightened.

Are we out of the woods? Has political ad spending hit a ceiling? According to most experts, the answer is no. Television stations have the power to charge whatever they want to outside groups, and they made a killing doing so. If there’s money to be spent – which special interest groups have communicated there is – then it’s clear that campaigns in the future will continue to target swing states and perhaps spend on others that they might have ignored in the past.

For more on ad spending in the 2012 election, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Is there anything wrong with campaigns and outside interest groups spending so much on advertising?

2.  Does advertising translate into support? Why, or why not?

3.  Should spending be curtailed for 2016?