The history of advertising has been a hot and intense one right from the start, a history which has led us all to this moment in time, when every minute, we are bombarded by millions of colourful images and loud noises, all vying for our attention. As a result, it is no wonder that the human body has developed a type of defense mechanism, which allows it to cope with this assault: the art of shutting out. We subconsciously make associations – similar sounds and images must mean the same old ads we see everywhere, everyday, so we don’t need to see them again, do we?
And the result? Ads are becoming increasingly bold, with old values being replaced by new ones, to the point where the only “moral” limits are those of the designers’ imagination. The idea of using creative, out-of-the-box advertising techniques to appeal to an ever more apathetic audience seems completely reasonable. But is there a line separating original from offensive, or, if you will, assertive from aggressive, in a world where non-assertion is seen as automatic failure?
Let’s look at a sensitive subject: sex and human sexuality. After years of being a recurring theme in a multitude of advertising campaigns, you would believe that by now it has become impossible to avoid being aggressive and still make your campaign stand out from the crowd. Apparently Durex, one of the world’s largest condom manufacturers was of the same opinion: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/295804/20120209/durex-dark-humour-banned-superbowl-ad.htm. Sadly for the company, the ad got banned from the 2012 Superbowl, after being deemed too offensive. Thus, the aggressive approach, which fails to consider the viewers’ points of view and bets it all on gaining their attention, can end up being shut out from the start.
So is there an assertive way of promoting sexual elements? Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I for one think that Stonewall’s recent campaign, “Some people are gay, get over it”, ticks all the boxes: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school/education_for_all/quick_links/education_resources/4007.asp. While both ads clearly express their points, Stonewall’s does so in a far less offensive manner: it does not attack the viewers’ senses or morality, it merely makes a statement. To my mind, that is what assertion is all about: standing up for yourself, without backing other against the wall. And why shouldn’t the same rules apply to advertising?
It might be because deep down we are all hypocrites, or it might be the fact that we tend to prefer sweet lies to the ugly reality of truth, but one thing is certain: as much as we like to believe we live in a civilized and moral society, gruesome acts of violence happen all around us, every day. And they happen because, one way or another, they can be justified.
A widespread and little thought about example is torture. Frowned upon as it may be, it still goes on almost everywhere, despite being a violation of basic human rights. Just think of the most notorious cases, those of the American-controlled prisons, such as Guantanamo. If the “war on terror” is a legitimate thing, does it justify applying torture methods to convicted felons (who have tried and maybe succeeded in harming others), if there is a chance of getting vital information from them, which might help protect innocents in the future? Or are human rights inviolable, no matter the circumstances?
In the Western, democratic world, we all agree that the acts of torture committed during the reigns of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya were horrendous and unacceptable. That was part of the reason why we “brought” democracy to their countries, right? But what about the torture of women in developed countries like The United Arab Emirates, or the mutilation of children by rebel forces in many African states? Are these any less infringing on our basic ideals, or is it just not worth the risk of jeopardizing economic interests by interfering to protect the innocent from torture? Apparently the end justifies the means and few feel the need to justify the end.
And speaking of the two bloodthirsty dictators (who happened to thirst for blood long before the USA and its allies finally “noticed”), many common people in their countries still hold them in high regards, despite what the propaganda might have us believe. Why? Because through their acts of torture they became feared, and through this fear, managed to maintain decades of political stability. So does this mean torture CAN be justified? Or does committing these acts alone earn them their fates?
In the end, each person sets their own moral values. What do yours say?
The 21st century is riddled with problems: from pollution and the worldwide unequal distribution of wealth, to wars, Lady Gaga and so on. Perhaps one of the worst of these, considering the constantly increasing number of people it affects, is obesity. Thought of as the blight of the developed world, the main cause of this condition is thought to be the modern human’s dietary habits, particularly the high intakes of sugar and salt. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/)
Several questions therefore come to mind:
If people seem unable to regulate their diet to fit their lifestyles, should they be given the possibility to hurt themselves?
Or should food producers and suppliers be forced to clean up what they’re selling?
Just where does consumer freedom end and faulty self-government begin?
One way of looking at this is to say that customers must be kept informed of what exactly it is that they are eating. And what they should eat. Simply enforcing a standard, comprehensive manner of labelling food products would likely result in a healthier population in the long term. But while it can be argued that transparency and a free flow of information can save us all, how many of us actually stop and thoroughly read every food label at the supermarket? And with internet access almost a given in the countries where obesity is a problem, who’s to say we don’t already know these things, but choose to ignore them?
A different approach to the problem is to say that the companies who make tons of money from producing and distributing unhealthy food to the population are, in fact, the ones to blame. Make them clean up their act, only supply low-sugar, low-salt treats and in the majority of cases, obesity will disappear. All good, except for a little thing some might call economic freedom. After a long history of totalitarianism, few look kindly on state intervention in the private sector, and probably rightly so. And personal freedoms are also at stake. Who can honestly say they don’t treat themselves to some delicious, calorie-rich treat at least once in a while?
This being said, any thoughts?