Archive for the 'print' Category

Does Your Content Moral Compass Always Point True North?

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“Your moral compass may guide you, but it won’t get you there.”

I was struck by a recent article (“A call for supermarkets to stop selling National Enquirer”), by Eric Zorn in the Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune.  The opening line asserts that it’s immoral for stores to sell the National Enquirer. And while Zorn feels this has been true for many years, he says “it’s especially true now that news events have shown the depths to which the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., appear to have gone to distort, mangle and conceal the truth in pursuit of political goals.”

Now, the intention of this post isn’t to debate whether stores should sell the National Enquirer, but rather to spur thought about our content moral compasses. We’re people who write, design, produce, distribute and sell content. Has your moral compass ever made you refuse to be part of the process because you objected to the content? Has it ever made you think twice or feel uncomfortable?

Everyone Has Their Day of Decision

If you haven’t had to make that decision and you’re a younger professional, chances are you will. And the chances are even greater that it will involve decisions not only about the content, but also about money and your career.

Pressure on establishments that sell magazines with content some consider inappropriate is nothing new. Many have been pressured over pornography and even borderline material like the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. And there have been numerous debates about the content appropriateness in television and radio commercials as well as print. Yet there are many moral compass decisions that fly below the public radar but can impact you directly.

My Personal Moral Compass Decision Points

When I look back at my career in the graphic arts, I can think of two instances where I had to be part of the content decision process. The first was with a printer of a direct mail product called card packs. These are targeted, co-op vehicles that usually contain 40-50 direct mail postcards with advertising on one side and prepaid business reply mail on the back. Card packs still exist, though their heyday is long past.

Anyway, we had a customer that wanted to publish a card pack to the gay community. Card packs were a specialty item, and only a few companies produced them. And while it might sound like no big deal now, this occurred during the late 80s. Keep in mind also that most printing companies have policies on what types of content they won’t accept. Many, for example, have policies against printing pornography. That was true of my employer.

Our leadership team’s main moral compass concern was not that the card pack was going to the gay community, but rather what the content of the individual postcards might be. So, our decision was to agree to print and mail if the advertising content did not violate our policy of not printing pornography. There were times when we perceived some ads to be borderline, but we were always able to work through the issues. For the times, it was probably a pretty good solution and did not violate my moral compass.

Muddier Waters

A little trickier situation for me involved cigarette advertising. After the ban on radio and television advertising, the cigarette companies poured tons of money into print, outdoor and point-of-purchase advertising. The company I worked for had a small promotional agency customer that had a highly placed marketing contact at R.J. Reynolds Company, the second largest cigarette manufacturer.

Our client had access to a patented, plastic molding technology that could produce unique, three-dimensional point-of-sale materials. The agency owner wanted to partner with us for various reasons and the idea was to produce point-of-purchase materials with a sculpted replica of Joe Camel, the advertising mascot of Camel cigarettes.

Our team had some moral compass pangs about whether to participate. Although it was a legal product, we all knew the dangers of smoking and all had children we hoped wouldn’t smoke. We also knew Joe Camel tended to appeal to young people.

Our partner came through with the meeting and three of us went off to Winston-Salem, mock up in hand, to make the presentation. I was fortunate from a moral compass standpoint that the Camel marketing team ultimately chose another option. But I can’t deny giving in to both the prospects of big business and protecting my position. The lens of my moral compass got cloudy.

But moral compass decisions can be tough. Perhaps you’ve faced one? How did you respond?

Contact me if you’d like to create content that accomplishes your marketing goal without putting your moral compass in a spin.


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