Motive: Integrity and ethics in the advertising industry
by Andrew MacKenzie. Is it time for agencies to take a step back and analyse whether they are putting profits ahead of integrity and ethical business practice? I think it is; let me explain why.
In a challenging economy, which certainly is the case in South Africa at present, the hunt for the upper hand over competitors is on. While a win-at-all-cost approach may have certain short-term benefits linked to revenue, what long-term damage does it have upon your brand perception and reputation?
A moral decision
The decision to behave with integrity and ethically is a moral one and is often influenced by agency culture, and agency values. Too often, though, agencies get caught up in the race to realise revenue and forget to step back and ask: Is this right? Ethics concern an individual’s moral judgements and, often, the right decision may involve rejecting a route that would lead to the biggest short-term profit.
If we look at the current business landscape, we see agencies continually implicated in ongoing ethical issues for short-term revenue gain. We’ve seen it in the form of unfair practices, soliciting bribes, offering bribes, scam ad, tax evasion, how we hire, how we dismiss, retrenchments, supporting cheaper manufacturing opportunities at the expense of local suppliers, underhanded tactics, etc. In business, as in life, there is a right way and a wrong way — no in-between — and agencies will benefit from looking at their operations with that filter.
Reputation is one of an agency’s most-valuable assets and one of the most-difficult to rebuild. Unethical behaviour may damage your reputation and make it less appealing to stakeholders, and customers and profits could fall as a result. Again this year at Cannes Lions, the world’s leading advertising festival, there were contentious entries deemed to be scam ads, so much so that the brands portrayed in the adverts had to distance themselves to avoid a PR nightmare.
Value of awards
Agencies understand the value that being awarded on an international stage has for their business and reputation but, if you get caught, think of the huge negative implications this has, not only upon your business but for the industry we represent and our country. If the idea were that good, you wouldn’t need to scam it; a client would choose to run it, knowing the benefits it would have for the brands and business.
This behaviour happens at every advertising award show; it happens internationally; and it’s going on in SA. Personally, I welcome the hard stance award-show organisers take on this, particularly in recent years here. It sends out a clear message about what we do and how we should go about conducting the business of advertising.
As agencies, we all know that the businesses and brands that are connecting with consumers today are connecting at a deeper level, an emotive level; they are transparent and genuine, those that operate ethically, and are not driven by the bottom line only. So why are we as agencies not delivering upon the same thinking with our agency brands? We’re faced with so many marketing messages, this authenticity from brands is refreshing and stands out and, what’s more, it builds incredible long-term brand loyalty. That old saying “the nice guys always come last” no longer rings true; I would argue that it is the opposite.
Values and purpose
Step back; look at your agency or your employer. Is there a set of values and purpose you believe in? Do you wake up every morning excited to go to work, knowing that, in the pursuit of a goal, you can do so without compromising your principles? Do you have to change who you are when you walk into work in the mornings?
As individuals, we’ve been taught right from wrong, and good from the bad, so why shouldn’t we take these principles into our careers?
As the chief cat-herder of a team of creatives, Andrew MacKenzie, the managing director of Boomtown, has to constantly maintain an objective view on creative concepts, always aiming at big ideas that work for clients. He relies on almost two decades of experience, from his junior designer beginnings through to his current speciality — TTL advertising. A people person to his core, Andrew’s skill is drawing the best out of the creative teams he oversees.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.