Critique and analysis of Frontline’s ‘The Persuaders’ from a Biblical Worldview.
We are surrounded by advertising. Everywhere we turn a product or company is trying to garner our business.
In the post-modern world, we have become entirely desensitized to the advertising surrounding us, but even when we don’t realize we’re being advertised to, companies are monetizing on our minds.
Take, for example, the Lady Gaga Telephone music video. Watch the video (please note, this video is not family appropriate) and count the number of product labels or companies you see.
It features not only two major music stars, Lady Gaga and Beyonce, but a staggering 11 instances of product or brand placement.
By simply watching a music video for a popular song, people are being exposed to advertising trying to subconsciously persuade them to buy that product.
Even when products are being explicitly advertised, companies are trying to advertise with a twist so the affect is inadvertently. Consider the two ads below. They don’t show the product till the very end but instead provide a memorable story so consumers will remember the ad fondly and hopefully, by extension, the brand.
It works, but is it right?
The new methods of marketing work. People are buying products now more than ever, and whether they realize it or not their purchasing decisions are often based on advertising. But are these almost underhanded advertising methods ethical?
“Marketers find a way so deep inside each one of us that it no longer feels like persuasion at all.” — Douglas Rushkoff
These are advertising methods for a new age. To get people to persuade themselves in the 1950’s all that was needed was something to get the product on their minds, a recommendation of a brand from someone who seemed friendly. It was a slower pace.
Now, people are constantly bombarded with ads. To sell a product you have to stand out and persuasive advertising, product placement, and their counterparts are what is needed to reach a post-modern world.
It’s not wrong to do what is needed to keep a company afloat. When, however, the lines become blurred between product positioning, and a Twilight Zone-esque mind control, that is when ethical concerns should be raised. Especially when the product is a dangerous one.
The government, to some degree, regulates advertising on cigarettes and alcohol, and of course all ads must meet certain Federal Communications Commission guidelines for language, and content, but the advertising community primarily regulates itself to keep the profession respectable.
Beyond this, it is the individual’s responsibility to perceive when they are being marketed to and make wise purchasing decisions. The primary responsibility for the effect of advertising has lain and will always lay with the consumer.
Companies will always be selling a message. But consumers choose what they do with that message.
Christianity & Persuasion
If these advertising methods aren’t a major ethical concern, what is the Biblical response?
1- Approach each situation prayerfully.
Christians in the advertising industry should seek God’s help to make sure they are being ethical and not ‘duping’ people into buying a product.
2- Live Practically
Christians should live as good stewards, and spend their money wisely, regardless of the direction advertising may push them.
3- Make Ethical Purchasing Decisions
Christians should purchase products that support their values, and make ethical decisions. Beyond this, they should not purchase from companies that do not honor their values, such as companies that mock or demean family and Christian values in their advertising.
The key is for Christians, and really any person, to be aware of the advertising surrounding them and yet make ethical and informed decisions.
On my honor, I have watched The Persuaders in its entirety.