October 5, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Where do you draw the line?

Where do you draw the line?

I am an avid reader, I love to read and strongly believe that reading makes better writers. Although I do prefer fiction, I also enjoy biographies and autobiographies too, and I’ve just recently finished reading Buzz Aldrin’s Magnificent Desolation–The Long Journey Home From the Moon.

One of the things I love most about reading is the way it tends to clear my mind–I’m one of those people who could spend every waking hour thinking about what I need to do, what I’ve done, what I should be doing, etc. It can be exhausting to never let your brain have any down time–it’s also counterproductive, as when you are constantly fixated on details your creativity can be stifled. (This is one of the main reasons I avoid reading business books. Depending on the author/subject I find many of them could be summed up in a white paper, plus they don’t jump my brain to think creatively.)

As I was reading Aldrin’s book an anecdote he related started me thinking about–of all things–fair use. (It also got me thinking about ghost writing, but that’s another post.) Aldrin was the subject of an iconic photo: the so-called “visor shot” from the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The photo has been used for commercial purposes, and Aldrin acknowledges that some applications (like MTV’s use for its awards) are harmless and even complimentary. However, Bacardi used the image for a rum commercial, depicting the astronaut with shorts on and pouring rum. This probably doesn’t seem all that egregious but for the fact that Aldrin is a recovering alcoholic, who at the time of the advertisement had been sober for 20 years. Aldrin was able to get Bacardi to pull the ad–but that begs the question: should Bacardi have even rolled out the ad in the first place? To them, it was a faceless image that everyone recognized. But there’s a person in that photo, even if you can’t see his face. Shouldn’t some consideration have been given to the individual’s circumstance? It’s not like it would have been hard to research, even in the ’80s with no Internet–you can narrow down who was in the photo pretty quickly.

I can see how it could happen in meetings and brainstorming sessions–people get going with the whiteboard, one idea builds on top of another, and it’s pretty easy to arrive at “here’s what we’re going to do” while blowing right past the “wait, should we do this?” How many poorly conceived social media (or even traditional marketing/advertising) campaigns have there been that just make you shake your head and say “what were they thinking?” The whole sub-par sub-viral category takes this all to a new, low level. (B.L. Ochman’s post contains another WTH/F-were-they-thinking example of a parody of the Columbine tragedy.)

Yes, it’s a big Internet and there are lots of things on it and you have to stand out blah, blah, blah. But throwing decency and common sense out the window while you are doing so might win you a few fans, but will probably cost you far more. I’m fully aware this post won’t reach anyone that it should, because those prone to using these sorts of attention-baiting tactics don’t really care about their image, they only care about eyeballs and buzz. But the escalation of inappropriate content affects all of us in communications, as it debases the industry (further, some might argue) and ultimately where does it end?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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