Academic journal article Journal of Advertising Education

Explaining Ethics: Using the Explainer Genre to Integrate Ethics into Advertising Curricula

Academic journal article Journal of Advertising Education

Explaining Ethics: Using the Explainer Genre to Integrate Ethics into Advertising Curricula

Article excerpt


As today's advertising environment increases in complexity, advertising professionals must be proactive in resolving ethical concerns to build trust among consumers who expect greater transparency (Institute for Advertising Ethics, 2011). In a recent study by Gallup (Riffkin, 2014), only one in 10 consumers rated the honesty and ethics of advertising professionals as high or very high. In this environment, advertising professionals are being called to give greater attention to ethics, as is evident in the statement from 2010 Advertising Hall of Achievement honoree Jeff Levick: "It's critical for the industry to acknowledge and accept that advertising is commercial information that must be treated with the same accuracy and ethics as editorial information" (in Snyder, 2011, p. 482).

In the advertising industry, ethical concerns are constantly shifting with the advent and use of new technologies (Institute for Advertising Ethics, 2011; Lopresti, 2013; Moraes & Michaelidou, 2015). Advertisers' ability to track users' online navigations undetected and celebrities who are paid thousands of dollars to post sponsored, but unidentified tweets (ignoring Federal Trade Commission mandated disclosures) are just some examples of the new ethical issues that have emerged with technological advances (Bilton, 2013; Federal Trade Commission, 2013, 2015; Varney, 2013). To prepare for this dynamic environment, students must be aware of and critically consider ethics in the context of advertising and collaborate effectively to develop work that reflects this new understanding.

Fostering advertising students' ethical cognizance to prepare them to produce morally responsible advertising is a critical component of advertising curricula. However, the lack of ethics courses offered in advertising programs underscores the need to integrate ethics into existing courses (Fullerton, Kendrick & McKinnon, 2013; Stuhlfaut & Farrell, 2009). Adding a stand-alone ethics unit to existing courses poses its own problems, as advertising educators are already challenged to keep up with the changes of a fast-paced industry and the evolving digital skill set it requires (Hyojin, 2012). Most of top advertising programs do not offer stand-alone ethics courses and instead give faculty autonomy to decide how to integrate ethics into more generalized advertising courses, such as "Advertising and Society" (Drumwright & Murphy, 2009). To compound the challenge, texts for advertising courses lack in-depth coverage and cover ethics only in broad strokes (Drumwright & Murphy, 2009).

The Ethical Explainer Project was designed to address the need for ethics integration into undergraduate advertising courses while using content relevant to contemporary adver- tising education. The project does not just add ethics as an appendage to an existing course, but explores ethics in a way that complements relevant student learning outcomes. The project fulfills three student learning outcomes: to foster ethical cognizance by engaging students with industry-specific ethical issues, to enhance research readiness skills and to provide an experiential and collaborative environment in which to hone skills needed to create persuasive messages using digital technologies.

Theoretical Framework

The Explainer Genre

The assignment was designed using the explainer genre as the central focus. Increasingly used in journalism, the explainer genre is a short video intended to bring clarity to complex issues, establish baseline knowledge for the viewing public and create more engagement in future mass media coverage related to the topic (Andrew, 2015). In 2010, ProPublica (a nonprofit that produces investigative journalism in the public interest) and New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute collaborated on the Building a Better Explainer project in an effort "to enhance the genre of 'The Explainer,' a form of journalism that provides essential background knowledge to follow events and trends in the news" (New York University, 2010, para. …

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