Season's Greeting to Advertisers: Use Your Power Wisely, Archbishop Advises

BRUSSELS — For advertisers, ‘tis the season to overwhelm consumers with glitzy messages intended to persuade them to buy as many Christmas presents as humanly possible.

But even as advertisers throughout the United States and Western Europe were preparing to unleash their annual explosion of clever commercials, Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, cautioned them about their responsibility to adhere to principles of ethical marketing.

At the same time, Archbishop Foley noted that the Church can benefit by employing the tools of successful marketing.

Addressing the World Federation of Advertisers amid its 50th anniversary celebrations Oct. 28, Archbishop Foley stressed the need for advertising to pursue the common good.

“I am a fan of advertising, even though I'm not much of a consumer,” said the archbishop, speaking to a group that included about 50 national associations of advertisers and about 30 international corporations.

“Because you're really trying to get people's attention, advertising is among the best communication being done in the world today — through production values, through design, through choices of words and images,"” he told the conference.

Marketing Jesus

Archbishop Foley said the Catholic Church has been engaged in a form of advertising — evangelization — for 2,000 years.

The Church, he said, has the advantage of really believing in its message and offering “much more than a lifetime guarantee.”

However, Archbishop Foley said, Church members could benefit from the expertise of the advertising business to improve the way they share the Gospel message.

While Jesus was an expert communicator, “We who follow himhave often been guilty of the fault which many consider the greatest sin of all in the modern world — we are often dull,” the archbishop said.

“Since I believe that we have the most important message in the world, please help us to be interesting in making it better known,“ he said.

In his talk, titled “A Good Name is the Best Advertisement,” the archbishop said he wanted to underscore several principles and concerns, the Vatican Information Service reported.

The first is that “being is better than having.” Our God-given dignity depends on the former, not the latter, Archbishop Foley stressed. Archbishop Foley also pleaded with the advertisers to be more vigilant in showing respect for human dignity, particularly for the dignity of the poor.

“Our dignity is not enhanced by the shirt we wear or the car we drive but by the virtues we manifest and by our authenticity and integrity,” he said.

Too often, he said, vulnerable people feel bad about themselves when they are bombarded by advertising that appears to be telling them they are “bad or unworthy” if they cannot afford to buy the products or services being advertised.

“Emphasize quality, emphasize efficiency, emphasize even better grooming and cleanliness and good appearance — but please do not suggest that a possession is going to make one person better than another person,” the archbishop told the advertisers.

“A second principle is: Each person must be treated with respect,” the archbishop continued. “We resent it as employees if we are treated as factors of production rather than as persons; we can resent it in advertising if individuals depicted are portrayed as objects rather than as persons and, indeed, if we — the audience of consumers — are treated as so many numbers to be reached instead of as persons to whom an important message is to be communicated.”

Archbishop Foley also repeated a call for reforms in political campaign financing and advertising laws, including those in the United States.

While political advertising can help create a more educated electorate, the high price of advertising effectively can shut valid candidates out of the race, he said.

“A third principle of ethics in communications is the common good,” Archbishop Foley said. “A growing concern in democratic societies is the ethical aspect of political campaigning” when, for example, “the costs of advertising limit political competition to wealthy candidates or groups,” thus obstructing the democratic process.

“As you know, advertising profoundly affects the values and the morals in society — and not just people's buying habits,” the archbishop concluded. “I hope you realize your own power — and that you continue to use it responsibly, as so many of you do.”

(Zenit amd CNS contributed to this report)