Topic: Business & Commercial

Samsung’s Phone Camcorder Ad: Ethics Pollution

For some mysterious reason, the Ethics Scoreboard has not had to invoke the concept of the “ethics polluter” in 2005 with anything like the frequency it did in 2004. An ethics polluter, for those of you who don’t recall, is a person or entity who does not simply act unethically, but also actively promotes and attempts to legitimize unethical conduct. Ethics polluters can do far more damage than the merely unethical, because they encourage our culture to accept and embrace unethical conduct. One of the few ethics polluters the Scoreboard exposed this year was the Gillette company, which thought that it was appropriate to promote its Tag Body Spray for Men by showing a teenaged boy being sexually assaulted by his girl friend’s mother who was aroused by the youth’s “Tag scent.” Undoubtedly a big hit with the Debra LaFave Fan Club, this leering endorsement of predatory conduct by adult women passed along to hormone-charged boys the atrocious message that being hit on by female authority figures is “cool,” when it is in fact can be a prelude to rape.

Now, just as the year is galloping to a close, along comes another company using the airwaves to promote the unforgivable. The Samsung corporation, proud as punch about its new cell phone camcorder that permits its user to record up to two hours of video, has launched a TV ad campaign featuring a young executive who uses its new product to rise to the top of his company. How? Why, by extorting its executives using surreptitious video he takes at the office Christmas party!

One could excuse the ad, and even find it amusing, were it fanciful. But the use of cell phone cameras to invade people’s privacy and embarrass them is already a large problem growing larger, and it is certain that cell phone camcorders will only increase the opportunity for mischief. There are even despicable websites, too numerous and contemptible to mention, that specialize in presenting photos from cell phone cameras focused under unsuspecting women’s skirts. The conduct Samsung depicts in its ad will inspire and appeal to a significant number of the individuals who will buy their new product. These individuals certainly won’t see the conduct celebrated in the spot as satire, and as it is likely that Samsung knows this, the Scoreboard has real doubts that it is satire. “Buy our product and extort your boss” isn’t a joke if you know you’ll make money from the people who think it’s a dandy idea.

There has been something of an explosion recently of TV ads using extortion or bribery themes to promote products (“Do what I want and I’ll give you this delicious hamburger!”), and some of these get uncomfortably close to the ethical line, but Samsung’s ad, like Tag’s, leaps across it with yards to spare. Rather than satirizing bad behavior, it makes unethical conduct appear beneficial, clever, and laudable. If the company did this intentionally, it should be called to account. If it did it unknowingly, then presumably it will pull the ad.

We shall see.

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