Perhaps you will feel differently and find it unethical.
Last week was heady stuff. Lots of talk about neuroscience vis a vis sales psychology, dead philosophers, and crack-laden breakfast burritos.
Just your typical Tuesday morning mishegas.
(No, that's not a typo. And yes, it's entirely possible your faithful scribe, as a dyed-in-thewool WASP, uses too many Yiddish words. But sometimes, Yiddish words are the best words for the particular moment. If you require a definition of mishegas, click here.)
So, as a diversion from last week's nattering about neuroscience, let's take a diversion into the field of ethics.
"OH, NO! NOT ETHICS!" SAYS THE LITTLE VOICE INSIDE YOU
"Didn't we get all stupidly into Ethics last time?"
Sort of. Ethics was indeed a treatise penned by Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza--who, as it happens grew up in Amsterdam's Portuguese Jewish community and was later expelled by them for questioning the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine. It is open to debate whether his reaction to being ostracized was, "Oy, such mishegas!"
But no to Ethics and yes to small "e" ethics.
Specifically, in sponsored programming, is it ethical to make fun of your advertiser?
I think we can be fairly certain that if you work in a radio station with any of the various Christian formats, the simple and definitive answer to that question is "No."
As in, "No, it is not ethical to make fun of our advertisers in our programming."
And frankly, other than the occasional ministry of snake handlers or subtly inept peddler of supplements, any radio advertiser worth being made fun of doesn't get past the Christian radio advertising gate keeper in the first place.
I USED TO WORK AT A RADIO STATION THAT MADE RELENTLESS FUN OF AN ADVERTISER
Once upon a time, I worked at a landmark AOR station in Boston.
That was the heyday of the US Navy's "It's not just a job, it's an adventure" recruitment advertising.
And part of the Navy's media buy was this particular radio station.
A radio station that, despite being big and famous, still very much had a grass roots connection to the community and a very politically left listenership.
When the new Navy commercials arrived, one of the deejays was notorious for reproducing them.
He'd add all kinds of inappropriate sound effects and commentary.
Was it funny? You bet.
Was it ethical? Perhaps not.
Fortunately, it wasn't necessary for me to decide that insofar as station and advertiser policies were concerned. My only responsibility was answering the listener line. (Which could be a more harrowing gig than you might imagine--especially at midnight on a Sunday.)
Footnote: while unaware of any fallout from those doctored commercials, I did once read a memo telling deejays that there was a new Wang Laboratories spot in rotation, that Wang is a big client for the station, and imploring them to please not make fun of the Wang name on air.
ARGUABLY, THE DOCTORED NAVY COMMERCIALS WERE UNETHICAL
Let's say you go by the definition that "ethical" pertains to "pertaining to right and wrong in conduct."
It seems pretty clear cut that this deejay was doing something that was "wrong in conduct."
And almost unprovable in the pre-digital era.
But, when considering the millions of dollars the US Navy was spending on their advertising even then, one spot being compromised like that was a drop in the bucket. Considering the cost of that one spot and a make-good, it has all the relative unethical weight of a scene from Good Morning, Vietnam!
And secretly, I'm sure management was happy to have the guy do it, no matter how many make goods it required. It's the kind of snarky, satirical humor that made listeners tell their friends about the station.
So, unethical? Probably.
Unrivaled? Oh, no. Not at all.
Because just last week, something like this happened on an epic scale.
IN CASE YOU WEREN'T PAYING ATTENTION...
Jon Stewart did it.
He did a segment that took a major swipe at a big-money advertiser.
During his October 29th episode of The Daily Show, Mr. Stewart opened segment in question by saying that they'd noticed they had a new advertiser in The Daily Show.
And he proceeded to play a sunny TV spot with a swelling music bed and shots of all kinds of happy smiling people of diverse ethnicity and gender doing important things in daily life.
Yes, there was even a baby.
The VO is a happy, smiling woman telling us, "Koch Industries started in the heartland. We help make better food, clothing, shelter, technologies, and other necessities. We build on each other's ideas to create more opportunities for people everywhere. We are Koch."
NOW, RIGHT HERE, ALLOW US TO STATE FOR THE RECORD: THE SCREED REMAINS SWITZERLAND
The screed is apolitical.
The screed is not anti-Koch any more than it is anti-Soros.
One billionaire legally manipulating the system is just as righteous as another billionaire legally manipulating the system.
Take that to mean whatever you like. We're here to talk about advertising.
And yes, you might think that idea of talking about advertising and ethics is like talking about pigs and their ability to use sign language.
(No matter how smart they may be, their lack of opposable thumbs makes it difficult for pigs to sign, so they simply do not try. Most advertising people do have opposable thumbs but a few are indeed challenged in the area of ethics, giving the rest of us a bad name.)
But I digress.
MR. STEWART THEN WENT ON TO "HELP" THE KOCH BROTHERS
As you might imagine, even if you don't follow him, a progressive of Mr. Stewart's stripe takes exception to Koch Industries.
So he did what any good satirist would do.
He re-cut their commercial for them.
He added new images and a new VO.
And speaking clinically, as a fan of satire, the result is hilarious.
Leave that judgment to the pundits.
But as far as skewering an obvious piece of corporate propaganda goes, it doesn't matter what your politics are.
It just works.
That said, there's a bigger question.
IS IT ETHICAL?
Because let's face it: advertising nationally in The Daily Show is not an inexpensive proposition.
Somebody wrote a mighty large check.
But arguably, it is ethical.
Jon Stewart is obviously no fan of the Koch brothers, and has been attacking them relentlessly for as long as they've been attackable.
And attacking them with satire is exactly what he gets paid to do.
It's why so much of America loves Jon Stewart.
In fact, it would be a dereliction of duty for Jon Stewart to NOT talk about the Koch Industries commercial.
He really had no choice. Otherwise, his core customer would regard him as a puppet of the right.
But ethics aside, why would Koch Industries buy advertising to support their enemy?
It had to be impossible for anyone at Koch Industries to think this was going to go unnoticed by Jon Stewart's writers.
IS IT POSSIBLE KOCH INDUSTRIES EXPECTED THIS?
Was this a stroke of genius on the part of their marketing department?
Did they say, "If we spend a hundred thousand dollars or so to advertise in The Daily Show, we could get millions of dollars worth of publicity.
"And, if he doesn't acknowledge us, how easy will it be to publicize that fact--gaining millions of dollars worth of publicity?"
All of a sudden, the entire thing becomes an ethical mishegas of motivational ambiguity.
Because by ripping on the Kochs and bringing this spot into the actual program, it has been seen by far more people than ever would have seen it in the context of the commercial break.
Seriously. Google "jon stewart" and "koch." This story dominates page one. It's being shared like crazy.
So, if the only thing anyone knew about Koch Industries is whatever vitriol came out of The Daily Show programming, they suddenly get an inkling of something more than what's passed through the Jon Stewart filter.
AT THE VERY LEAST, THIS IS A CASE WHERE IT'S ENTIRELY ETHICAL TO MAKE FUN OF THE ADVERTISER
In essence, it's what the advertiser is paying for. You can't expect a satirist who is your enemy to not make fun of your advertising.
And quite possibly, it was a shrewd move on the part of the Kochs.
They practically forced their enemy to publicize them and what they do.
Remember, the screed is Switzerland.
The screed is not saying whether any of this is good, right and true.
But it certainly is worthy of discussion.
And who knows?
Like so much else that gets discussed here, maybe there's some way to harness this big brand thinking to your own small brand. After all, everyone loves watching someone else's conflict.
If you'd like to see the full Jon Stewart clip, you can find it here. Or, you may copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/l7sbk8r