Omaha panelists discuss truth in marketing, dilemmas they’ve faced, testing for accuracy

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Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 12:00 am

If you’ve ever wondered what that cologne ad actually means, whether the facts are true in that political ad and whether to ask your doctor about that pill you’ve heard about, you’re actually concerned about the ethics of marketing.

About 130 people discussed the topic Tuesday at a meeting in Omaha that started with a series of video ads, including two for Unilever products, Dove and Axe.

The discussion was at a meeting of the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance at Gallup’s office on Riverfront Drive. Creighton University, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau organized the session.

Dove’s “real beauty” ad decried the unrealistic images of women in advertising; in the Axe ad, an attractive young woman rubbed against a homeless man who had sprayed himself with cologne he had pulled from a trash can.

While the Dove ads have gotten praise for promoting realistic portrayals of women, Axe ads have drawn criticism, although they show situations so unlikely that most people understand that it’s a parody and not intended to be serious.

A spokesman for Unilever forwarded this statement: “Unilever is a large, global company with many brands in our portfolio. Each brand’s efforts are tailored to reflect the unique interests and needs of its audience.”

A panelist at the ethics meeting, Sharon Carleton, president and CEO of Ervin and Smith Advertising | Public Relations in Omaha, said advertisers may do research on their target market — young males in Axe’s case — but not as much on people who may be offended.

She said the Axe ad’s portrayal of women is troubling, but “it’s my fifth-grade boy who wants Axe.”

The other panelist, KETV president and general manager Ariel Roblin, said she faced an ethical dilemma because campaign laws require stations to run ads from official federal election candidates. In the 2012 campaign, a minor candidate bought an ad with racist content.

“It was just an awful ad,” Roblin said, but because KETV was required to run it, she added disclaimers before and after it appeared.

TV stations are not legally liable for the content of federally required ads, she said, but are liable for the content of “issue” advertisements bought by third parties. As a result, KETV checks third-party ads to see if the source materials are accurately reflected. The station has rejected some, she said, or told sponsors to change an ad’s content or provide source material to back up its claims.

Jim Hegarty, president of the area Better Business Bureau, said his staff checks the accuracy of advertising in Omaha, usually in response to consumer complaints. If someone questions the contents of an ad, he said, “we’ll take it on” to encourage ethical advertising in Omaha.

In response to a question, Carleton said advertising medicines or other medical products may lead to people pestering their doctors to try ineffective treatments, but the ads also may help people. She said her son has benefited from medication she first heard about through advertising. “I’m grateful for some of that,” she said.

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