The Medium Changes, But the Ethical Issues Are the Same

Reverb Communications settled up with the FTC.  The marketing company agreed to remove from the Internet all the iTune reviews that appeared to be written by run-of-the-mill app users but that had really been written by its very own employees.  Reverb admitted nothing, noting that it could not agree with the FTC on the facts.  However, Reverb could have taken a lesson from Hollywood.  Fake reviews are nothing new.  We have had them for movies. Actress Demi Moore starred in the 1995 movie, The Scarlet Letter,  which was based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book of the same name. Hollywood Pictures ran the following quote from a Time magazine review: “‘Scarlet Letter’ Gets What It Always Needed: Demi Moore.” The actual review by Time magazine read: “Stuffy old Scarlet Letter gets what it always needed: Demi Moore and a happier ending.” A Time spokesman noted that the statement was clearly ironic. In the same review, the Time critic, Richard Corliss, referred to the movie as “revisionist slog” and gave it an “F.”

An ad for the 1995 movie Seven quoted Entertainment Weekly as calling it a “masterpiece.” The actual review read, “The credits sequence ._._. is a small masterpiece of dementia.”

A movie industry observer stated in response to these examples, “The practice of fudging critics’ quotes [in ads] is common.”  Common, albeit not completely honest.  The medium changes, but the ethical issues remain the same:

1.  Did the person acually see the movie/use the app?

2. Is the person a real consumer or conflicted by loyalty to an employer?

3. Do those reading the reviews understand the true identity, context, and role of the reviewer?

4. There is a false impression!

5. This stuff comes out, sooner or later, and later is always worse because you are then grappling with the porblem as well as the loss of trust.

And the New York Times columnist, Randy Cohen, the ethicist, got it right when he answered a question about this very issue a few weeks back.  There was flak, but Mr. Cohen was correct.  The question was presented because not only is the practice common  but many clients ask the marketing firms to push the envelope in their efforts online.  Somehow the anonymity of the Internet results in ethical slippage.  Mr. Coehn answered the ethical question aptly and, it turns out, the legal question as well. The answer was the same because of FTC guidelines published last year on our blogging, tweeting, posting, etc.  Ads are ads, regardless of the forum and truth in advertising has been with us since, well, merry old England.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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