Future advertising might be more socially conscious, but it also risks more public backlash

MUSE hosted the Executive Director of the Future of Advertising Program on Thursday

· April 24, 2014, 9:44 pm   ·  Updated April 25, 2014, 2:33 am

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Changes are coming to advertising.

MUSE hosted a discussion of socially conscious marketing efforts in Huntsman Hall last night, led by Executive Director of the Wharton Future of Advertising Program Catharine Findiesen Hays.

Experts on advertising’s potential

“What could, should advertising look like? What does that mean we should do now to get ready for that future?” Hays asked. “If people start to prepare for what advertising could, should do now — one day we can reach that future.”

WFoA recently launched the 20/20 Project. It asked current industry executives to answer questions about how advertising should look and more in 1,000-word essays. Hays emphasized the importance of being aspirational in discussing conscientious marketing — the essays focus on possibility rather than actuality.

What is advertising’s responsibility?

Using the example of GoDaddy, a web hosting company, Hays discussed the issue of responsible marketing from a sales perspective. GoDaddy is a successful company that gained attention through ads featuring scantily clad female athletes that are viewed by some as sexist and exploitative.

Hays also used Mars as an example. The company decided not to market to children under the age of 12 because of national obesity concerns. Most notably, the company is advertising to adults on sports channels with the Snickers “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” campaign.

“Is advertising just about getting people to buy stuff? Is all the bad stuff okay?” Hays asked.

Potential backlash

“With the advent of social media, if [consumers] don’t think you’re doing a good job, they can and will call you out on it.”

Hays said social media has given a new power to the consumer. Consumers opinions on what they see as a negative advertising effort can damage a company’s image and revenue.

A recent example she used was the backlash to the New York Police Department’s Twitter campaign encouraging citizens to take pictures with their favorite police officers. Twitter users used the opportunity to post images of police brutality and question the department’s “stop and frisk” policy.

Making a positive impact

“Imagine a brand that you love that is not socially conscious. How would you take the concepts we’ve discussed to re-imagine the brand so that it has a better impact on society?”

One group of attendees discussed Penn’s marketing, believing that students and University personnel alike need to advertise about engagement with the greater Philadelphia community.

More about the Future of Advertising Program

“It is essentially a bridge between academia and practitioners [of marketing] ... Our mission is to have deeper insights, bolder innovation and broader positive impact on advertising,” Hays said of WFOA.

Hays described the focus of WFoA as engaging students in the world of marketing in order to increase related research, in addition to acting as a liaison between students and industry professionals. The board of WFoA includes professionals from industry giants such as IBM, Google and Nielsen.

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