‘The Persuaders’ Response
As a marketing student graduating in May 2017, I was challenged by “The Persuaders” to consider how I will persuade others in my future job. From a Christian perspective, I must decide which marketing techniques are ethical or unethical. In light of what I learned in “The Persuaders,” I have developed a list of three questions marketers should ask themselves before using an advertisement.
1. Do I believe it is true?
2. Is my emotional appeal flowing from logic?
3. Would I feel manipulated?
Do I Believe This Is True?
When developing an advertisement or campaign to convince consumers to buy a product or service, the first question I should consider is “Do I believe it is true?” In other words, does the product or service actually give the benefits I am promising the customer in the advertisement? This question of truthfulness has become especially relevant due to the increased power marketers have today as a result of advanced research techniques.
“The Persuaders” considered how marketers use research to discover the best way to appeal to their target audience. For example, the show described how Delta Air Lines Inc. researched its target person, “Carrie,” to determine what kind of needs and lifestyle preferences she had and then developed an advertising campaign based upon these findings.
Researching what consumers want is ethical as long as the companies use this information to develop advertisements that accurately reflect the product and its benefits. For Christians, the problem that can arise is when the advertisements make sales by taking advantage of the desires that the research uncovered, when the product or service will not actually fulfill these longings. If the persuader does not believe the advertisement truly reflects the product, than the advertisement is unethical.
Is My Emotional Appeal Flowing from Logic?
If the advertisement is true, the second question I must ask is whether my emotional appeal to the audience is founded in logic. If my advertisement directly or indirectly has a logical argument for why the consumer should buy the product, then I can ethically use an emotional appeal that builds upon this logical base. However, as seen in this romantic Extra Gum advertisement, emotional branding often relies solely upon emotional appeals, with no apparent logical arguments for why the customer should by the product.
Emotional branding is becoming increasingly prevalent as companies attempt to increase sales by making customers connect with brands on an emotional level. For example, marketing consultant Clotaire Rapaille attempts to uncover how to get consumers to buy a product based purely on irrational emotion triggered by a code, a technique that completely bypasses the use of logic. A Christian marketer should question the ethicalness of such techniques that border on attempting to control another human being.
Would I Feel Manipulated?
Even if the advertisement shows real product benefits and has an implied logical argument, it may still be unethical if the techniques are manipulative, as opposed to simply persuasive. Thus, the final question marketers should ask themselves before proceeding with an ad is “If I were the consumer and knew the details behind this ad, would I feel like I was being manipulated?” If the answer is yes, the ad is likely unethical.
In Luke 6:31, Christ commands the disciples to treat others how they would want to be treated.
For a Christian marketer, the key to ethical advertising rests on this idea. Persuasion in and of itself is not an unethical act, but in today’s commercial culture, Christian marketers must constantly consider how to effectively represent Christ in an increasingly manipulative industry.
On my honor, I have watched “The Persuaders” in its entirety.