Friday, November 1, 2013

Utilitarianism dominates media ethics and is represented in social marketing, particularly smoking advertisements

Utilitarianism is a philosophical approach interlaced in consequentialism. It is simply the belief that a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people. Every action has consequences, whether good or bad, and they must be taken into account. Utilitarianism can help in the decision making process to determine the right course of action or in the evaluation of a decision after the action was completed to decide if the moral choice was made. 

Utilitarianism in the media

Utilitarianism dominates media ethics. Marketing is everywhere in the media and every corporation tries to create a product that consumers do not just want, but need. This is a utilitarian tactic because if the majority of consumers need a product, then it will benefit a large population. Through the Internet, television, and social networking, companies have the power to advertise products or campaigns that have the greatest good for a large number of people. If a company succeeds in this marketing campaign, then they can look back and know they made the right choice. As a result of affecting a large number of people for the better, the company will become more popular and thrive. Advertisements for products that are associated with harmful or negative consequences will be historically viewed as detrimental and reflective of an immoral choice. Social marketing is one example in the media that operates under this philosophical approach of utilitarianism. Social marketing uses marketing techniques and advertising for social causes. These advertisements are popularized through mass media in commercials, movie previews, billboards, magazines, and websites. Social marketing attempts to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people by changing their behavior. Some examples of this utilitarian approach to change people’s negative behavior include the campaign to avoid binge drinking, the campaign for safe sex, and possibly the most successful, the campaign for antismoking. 

Utilitarianism in the first televised antismoking advertisement

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) funded the first national televised ad to lower smoking rates in 2012. A series of television ads featured real-life stories from former smokers who, after smoking for many years, all now have debilitating conditions. One woman needed help performing every daily task from bathing to changing and going to the bathroom. Another woman had her fingers amputated due to poor circulation from smoking. Dr. Timothy AcAfee collected data when the series of ads aired in March 2012. During this study, there was an increase of 12% of smokers that tried to quit (1.64 million people). By the end of three months when these ads aired, 200,000 people successfully quit smoking. This is a utilitarian tactic because the CDC decided that the most ethical action was to create an antismoking campaign that illustrates how smoking is harmful instead of just telling people to create good habits among a large population. Using utilitarianism and looking back on the actions of the CDC’s campaign, the moral choice was made because their ad helped 200,000 people stay smoke-free. Although the smokers shown in the ad were a small group of people who suffered because of their debilitating health conditions, this antismoking campaign ultimately helped a larger number of people quit.

Utilitarianism in 1950’s smoking advertisements

Although smoking advertisements have changed the way companies promote or reject smoking, these advertisements have still demonstrated utilitarian tactics for what they endorse from the beginning of times. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, tobacco companies advocated smoking through every form of media, mainly radio, newspapers, and motion pictures. In that era, doctors and medical journals promoted smoking because they believed it was good for everyone’s health. Even then utilitarianism was used, but it promoted the opposite from what it does now. Tobacco companies sponsored television shows and movies where actors were portrayed as regular smokers. Since smoking was deemed good for people’s health, utilitarianism was used in the 1950’s because companies thought they were doing good for the greatest number of people by promoting smoking and showing it is socially acceptable with beneficial health effects. But, as more research developed on the consequences of smoking, advertisements switched their focus and now all that is shown are antismoking campaigns.

Advertisements are everywhere in media and utilitarianism is used in advertisements to show that their product or campaign has the greatest good among a large population. The impact that advertising has on the behavior of the public cannot be underestimated and positive change can be made in a large number of people if the right message is conveyed. Utilitarianism in the media can play a major role in making the world a better place.

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