Integrity Matters
September 13, 2006

Marketers must take responsibility for their ads

Question: (E-257)

Dear Jim:

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. airs a commercial portraying a monster in a youngster's bedroom. The actor-father tells the child not to be afraid because PG&E lights will stay on.

Hummer advertises on television that drivers of their automobiles can bully their way, any place and any time. Aren't such values despicable, even harmful for children and our culture?


Yes, using visual scare tactics - creating anxiety for children - is not as cute as it is cruel. PG&E has chosen to sell its brand inappropriately. During one of our public management workshops, titled MBA Impact: Essentials, I asked a participant, an educator, at what age a child grasps sarcasm and innuendo. Her response: "When they are juniors or seniors in high school."

So, why would a marketing-savvy organization like PG&E risk upsetting thoughtful and caring parents, during prime time, when there are other clever ways to communicate its message? Making children the "butt" of jokes is not appropriate and needs to be pulled from the airwaves, immediately.

The Hummer commercial is also troublesome. Selling an oversized highway-approved motorized steel vehicle as a weapon for retaliation is simply inappropriate. Those who are politically correct already challenge the socially-unresponsive aspects of gas-guzzling vehicles. Why would successful marketers complicate social insensitivity by promoting rude behavior? Today, with violence and insensitivity on the rise among adults and children, encouraging any behavior other than kindness is not wise. Hummer advertisers need a more "civil" way to capture the attention of potential buyers.

Businesses and organizations with quality products and services (and legitimate brands) do not need to appeal to cruel and insensitive motives to be successful. PG&E and Hummer are not breaking laws, either federal nor state.

But they are failing to leverage their best assets. They are not building on the constructive values that make up the Bracher Center's Eight Attributes of an Integrity-Centered Company: character, honesty, openness, authority, partnership, performance, charity and graciousness.

Organizations with integrity do not intentionally "poke fun" at children, of any age, who are our future hope.

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