Honest, Ethical Ad Industry Can Actually Help Economy

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Hey, advertising industry: Want to help your country, improve your image and save your clients? How about getting back to the fundamentals of truth in advertising?

Ad agencies these days seem to serve as little more than yes men for marketers. A charitable explanation is that creative people get caught up in the challenge of execution rather than the big picture. A less charitable explanation is that some marketing execs and their agencies are interested only in lining their pockets.

The Vytorin Saga:

What Housing Crisis? Realtors' Ads Defy Reality
Despite a Nationwide Meltdown, Industry Says Now Is the Time to Buy
Pharma Biz Cops to $5 Billion Drug Problem
Trade Group to Examine Marketing; Admits to Consumer 'Backlash'
It's Time, Ad Industry: Stand Up and Hold Marketers to Account
Remember This Adage: What's Best for Consumers Is Best for Advertisers
Drug Makers Yank Vytorin TV Ads
Merck, Schering-Plough Suspend Broadcast Advertising for Two Cholesterol-Lowering Meds
Merck, Schering Wage PR Battle After Vytorin Backlash
Newspaper Ads Look to Comfort Consumers Worried About Drug's Effectiveness
Vytorin Ad Shame Taints Entire Marketing Industry
Cholesterol Drug's Ad Campaign Turns Into PR Nightmare, Fanning Flames of Public Mistrust of DTC
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. But one wonders if those who created the advertising that touted adjustable-rate mortgages are feeling at least a slight bit of guilt.

Advertising, strange as it may sound, can be a company's conscience, because it is often inserted into the business process at the point at which a company decides how it is going to portray itself and its products to the public.

Take, for example, the National Association of Realtors. We understand the impulse to run an image campaign in the midst of a sector meltdown -- indeed, Ad Age has always advocated maintaining a reasonable level of investment through a recession. But shouldn't someone have pointed out that the group's latest ads could come across as a blatantly manipulative attempt to take advantage of desperate people?

One of the ads claims that "interest rates are low and buyer opportunities have never been better. ... On average, the value of a home nearly doubles every 10 years." That sort of "truthiness" runs right up against the reality being experienced by many Americans -- and could easily have been avoided.

Agencies, of course, aren't the only ones responsible here. More than a few of our readers wondered about DDB's role in the Vytorin case. But no one knows if or when DDB was made aware of the study on which Merck and Schering-Plough were sitting (the agency isn't commenting). But someone on the client's marketing side or someone in PR should have forced the issue.

We can only imagine how hard it would be to convince the CEO to walk away from a few billion dollars in sales, but consider what the fallout might cost not only the companies involved but the entire pharmaceutical industry.

To put it bluntly, our readers have a choice to make. Marketing has a huge role to play in the economic future of this country. Those involved in these industries can support and create the entertainment and information consumers demand as they fuel the continued long-term growth of the U.S. economy. Or they can choose to support and even encourage consumer deception. There may still be short-term gains available if they go that route, but as we're starting to see, the long-term results of deception can be damaging to the ad industry -- and possibly to the economy as a whole.
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