Monday, March 19, 2007

Ethics in Advertising

For some reason I haven't been able to put my finger on until now, this guy bothers me.

For the uninitiated, he's Major Michael Mori, lawyer for Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee and former Taliban combatant David Hicks, and he's mounting an incredibly successful defence of Hicks in the court of public opinion.

Mori's "edge", his "positioning" I guess, is that David Hicks is a decent guy, an idealistic but insanely misguided kid who just got mixed up with the wrong crowd. In this campaign, he's been aided by the, who have been running ads featuring photos of Hicks as a kid.

My problem is that, for all it's persuasiveness, this is a terrible - and ultimately dangerous - argument.

The real reason we all should be concerned about Hicks' predicament is that it represents an abrogation of years of basic common law rights - prohibitions against retrospective legislation, detention without charge and a whole bunch of other stuff that I can't really get into here.

If we decide that the reason Hicks deserves those protections is because he's a good Aussie bloke, it tends to suggest that people who aren't good Aussie blokes don't deserve them. In effect, it undermines the very reason those protections were put in place - to ensure the law was applied equally to all and that guilt wasn't predetermined.

What's the relevance of all of this to advertising? Probably not a lot if you're flogging chocolate bars or broadband packages.

But if you're writing ads for any sort of social, environmental or political issue, a similar dilemma is likely to rear its head, because the most intellectually honest argument isn't necessarily the most persuasive one.

So you're left with a choice: do you serve the client's immediate best interest, and in the process add your little clod of mud to the already debased and murky waters of public discourse? Or do you serve the broader public interest and attempt to keep the debate clear by eschewing fallacy and misrepresentation?

Of course, it's your job to do the former. But, even when, as in the Hicks case, it's in a good cause, I'm not sure that's a good thing.


Anonymous said...

I love this guy.

Yes, he's started running a slightly questionable emotive argument. But that's because he's been banging the drum on the legal argument for 5 years and nothing has happened. You would give it a go too!

The detention without charge has always been his primary argument. As it should be - the situation is ridiculous.


Cleaver said...

Yeah, it's a bit rich of me to criticise him really.

After all, while I spend all day trying to convince children to buy chocolate bars, it looks like he's pretty much sacrificed any hope of further advancement in his military career defending an unpopular client and an even more unpopular principle.

I suppose I just feel that this kind of emotive argument is detrimental to public discourse, the fact that it gains traction is lamentable, and it ought to be an indictment on someone that it had to be made.

As my partner argues, it's not the job of an advocate to decide how persuasive an argument is, it's the job of the person to whom the argument is being put. If they get taken in by a flawed argument, the blame lies with them, not the advocate.

Anonymous said...

Yeah good point. People in the media sell this kind of argument because we're dumb enough to buy it.


writer said...

Hicks is a first class nutcase with an IQ that doesn't challenge the ambient room temperature - especially the one he's in - who betrayed not just a country but a wife and two children to go to war against same. These facts are not in dispute. Only the length of his incarceration without trial is; and that only because the US is in a state of warfare with those whose army fed and armed Hicks.

Everything Major Mori has said he would say. The Australian campaign for David Hicks - got up by the usual coalition of gullible anti-Americans and fed by leftwing lawyers and journalists (hello, ABC) - is hysterical and dangerous. They have also painted themselves into the problematic corner, via their statements, of never being able to accept a Hicks custodial sentence.

Michelle said...

Mori's trying to humanise Hicks to get some attention and stimulate enough critical mass and emotion so that the authorities bring about a just trial for Hicks.

I don't see anything morally questionable about that.

For all we know, Hicks may be a monster of gigantic proportions. Charge him, try him in a civil court, and let his peers decide.