Monday, August 16, 2010

Ethics and Creativity in Madmen

I teach Introduction to Management at Brooklyn College.  The distance learning software we use nowadays is called "Blackboard" (NYU, Troy State and Brooklyn College have all used it since about 10 years ago).  I just posted a discussion assignment on the course's Blackboard site for this fall's class. One of the subjects in the course is "creativity" and the question I'm raising is whether there are ethical limits to creativity.  I use AMC's TV series Madmen to raise two discussion questions. The links to the Madmen and television advertisement clips are below.

The questions I raise are as follows.

After reading chapter two and after the class discussion on creativity go to blackboard's "external links" folder "Creativity and Ethics in Madmen" (see links below). Watch the five Youtube clips in the folder. The first two are of 1950s Lucky Strike TV commercials. The third is of a 1960s Eastman Kodak camera commercial. The fourth and fifth are from the TV series Madmen. They depict the fictitious creative genius behind the fictitious Sterling Cooper advertising firm, Don Draper (note the allusion to drapes, draping, hiding, the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain). The fourth clip is of Draper creating the Lucky Strike advertising strategy. The fifth is of Draper creating the ad campaign for Eastman Kodak's carousel (a picture slide display device) which is similar to the Eastman Kodak ad shown.

(1) What are the benefits of advertising?  What arguments can be made to justify the ethical foundations of Don Draper's approach to advertising? 

(2) Are there moral limits to emotional manipulation? For example, is a government which uses patriotism to motivate loyalty despite policies which are harmful to the public ethical? Likewise, is a firm which uses love, happiness, freedom and similar virtues to motivate sales of products ethical? If so, what are the limits? If not, is it realistic to expect managers to adhere to strict ethical standards? 

(3) Elaborate on the question of whether Don Draper is ethical in using higher order emotions, happiness and familial love to sell cigarettes that he knows kill and photography supplies given the gains from advertising.
External Links

Lucky Strike ad 1:

Luck Strike ad 2:

1960s Kodak ad, “Turn around”:

Madmen clip: Lucky Strike:

Comment: AMC's excellent Madmen series is supposed to be about the advertising business in the early 1960s, but as you can see from the above the "It's Toasted" concept was already established in the 1950s and earlier (1917 according to Wikipedia). Also, American Tobacco, founded by James Buchanan Duke (cf: Duke University), owned the Lucky Strike brand and it was not a family run operation by the 1960s (the US Supreme Court broke up American Tobacco, the Tobacco Trust, in 1911). Famed heiress Doris Duke who died in 1993 was Duke's only child.

Nevertheless, this scene gives a cool illustration of a creative process. In the episode, the hero, the brilliant and creative Don Draper (Jon Hamm), is asked to think of an ad campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes to address the recent findings that cigarettes cause cancer. He thinks about it for weeks but cannot come up with an idea. At the beginning of the meeting with the tobacco executives, he still draws a blank. After consulting a psychologist, he is still speechless. His account exec, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) quotes the psychologist to fill the gap (Campbell is sneaky and the implication is that he stole the research from Draper's trash can).

Just as the tobacco executives are walking out, Draper's light bulb lights: the cancer finding is a strategic opportunity to appeal to higher order needs like happiness. Lucky Strike is "toasted."

Madmen clip: Kodak carousel

The Eastman Kodak executives are interviewing ad firms to handle their new product, which they call "the wheel." You put slides in the wheel and then click to turn the wheel to the next slide. They have told Don Draper and his boss, Herman "Duck" Phillips (Mark Moses), media director Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), and art director Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt) that their firm, Sterling Cooper, is one of four or five they are interviewing.

Draper uses his own wedding pictures, pictures of his wife Betty (January Jones), his children and himself to show that the product should be named the "carousel", not the wheel, because it is reminiscent of childhood and evokes the nostalgia of bringing up children that the "carousel" can capture--the deep feelings the consumer has for his or her own children, the nostalgia for the past and perhaps their own childhoods. "It takes us where we ache to go again. It lets us travel like child. The carousel."

Harry Crane leaves the room as he breaks into tears. The Kodak executives are speechless. Phillips confidently looks at the Eastman Kodak executives and says "Good luck at your next meeting."


Doug Plumb said...

We cannot depend on capitalists for ethical behaviour- unless some sort of government supervision is used. Governments are much more dangerous than smoking, or anything else the capitalists could sell us.

We cannot depend on the courts to make ethical judgments (for reasons that are all too obvious that I won't elaborate here)

A true free independent press is necessary to force capitalists to maintain behavior that fits with the societal ethic.

This poses difficulty for times back then due to corporate control, but an unrestricted web press would expose the dangers of smoking in today's world. Notice what its done for fluoridated water awareness.

Loosely related to this topic is this video on ethics: . (William K. Black on Max Keiser). Also notice Keiser is in bed with the ecologists and planting propaganda of his own. These guys are all of the "limited hangout" sort (coined by Catherine A. Fitts).

Listen to the first two minutes then go up halfway through and continue. You can never completely trust big media.

Mitchell Langbert said...

The best bet is to allow a wide latitude to business and the public but end all support for business. Corrupt practices flourish where there is extra cash. The American business system now depends on considerable government subsidy, which has been the source of much of the recent corruption. The subsidy comes from the Fed and from regulation. Regulation is itself a subsidy to big business because it makes life much harder for small business so big business obtains an advantage. Also, the federal income tax has made it much more difficult for entrepreneurs to accumulate capital. All of these government interventions make business more corrupt. As you point out, Doug, the federal government itself is more corrupt than most businesses. Thus, it cannot serve as a meaningful regulator. As well, the ability of special interests to manipulate the state makes regulation pointless and destructive.

Doug Plumb said...

I saw this magnificent argument for less government the other day. I'm not sure I told you about it on here, so here is the link:!

I'm not an anarchist, but the point made here, if the info is accurate, is very powerful. Its an 8 min video regarding traffic lights and the need for them.

Doug Plumb said...

I thought Peggys stunt with the ham was magnificent. That really happened - I read somewhere.

Humour is the most beautiful thing in life. Its metaphysical.

Mitchell Langbert said...

Absolutely, Doug.