The Social Responsibility of Ad & PR

What obligation do strategic communicators, for the sake of this blog post, Ad & PR, have in terms of goodwill towards the audience? Are they fulfilling this obligation? Does the public think these strategic communicators have the client’s best interest in mind, or the public’s? Or seemingly, both? Or none?

I believe that strategic communicators, those involved with advertisement and public relations, have the obligation of social responsibility foremost as a part of their goodwill toward the audience. Based off of the theoretical work of Erving Goffman, whose book titled Gender Advertisements, “is less about the affects of advertising on us, and much more about what advertising tells us about ourselves,” I would argue that strategic communicators should ethically be responsible for the goodwill obligation of the entire public because of their heavy influence on society. They play a role in reflecting what is acceptable in society, what is the ‘norm’. Shouldn’t individuals, corporations, companies, all of these communicators have a goodwill obligation toward the public because of this? While they might believe to psychologically understand what sells, majority of the time the messages they are sending can not be defined with the good intent and will for the public. Therefor, I would argue that majority of the time Public Relations, and particularly Advertising, are not fulfilling their goodwill obligation to their public, for reasons that can be traced back throughout history which pertains to whom they want their products and messages to reach. But, taking into Goffman’s point, society also needs to take responsibility to demonstrate what these strategic communicators should reflect; and lately, they have done just that.

Brooke from One Tree Hill, Season 4 Episode 13



Society has become more of visual anthropologists with every upcoming generation by becoming more critical of advertisements and public relations, seeing the world outside of what was constructed by these strategic communicators. They are discovering the controversial depictions of gender roles, sex, body image, consumerism, stereotypes, targeting and more. The public are coming to realization that these strategic communicators are not judiciously sending messages to appeal and be accepted by everyone, which I wouldn’t define as having goodwill towards their audiences. For example, knowing sex and depicting women to a certain gender role sells because it appeals to man, having primarily white fashion advertising models, or covering and shedding light only to particular issues in the media.

I would suggest that because of society developing more of a critical eye, changes are already happening to deconstruct the depiction of gender roles in advertising and public relations. Therefor, the ethical issue I would like to stress upon is social responsibility, to reflect just representation of not just gender roles, but cultural roles too. I think as a part of advertisers and public relation’s goodwill toward their audience, having a social responsibility to justifiably represent the reality of society around them is an ethic responsibility they should take on. For example, the Super Bowl’s first ever Colgate commercial.


In this example, Colgate brings forth the issue of water conservation by taking an ethos appeal and demonstrating the usage others, presumably from third world countries, use water for than just brushing teeth. The public knows Colgate is a toothpaste company, but now they’ve taken the social responsibility of shedding light and campaigning on an issue they feel is important. There are two benefits here, one is for actually addressing the problem of water conversation and for Colgate to hopefully increase sales because they ‘care’. Is that ethical? For a company to just take on social responsibility for the sake of increasing sales and developing some good PR? I would argue I’d rather that than none at all.

Again, concerning the Super Bowl, it was disheartening to see some of the negative backlash the show received, specifically Beyonce’s take on Black Empowerment seemingly as an ‘attack’ on police, when the entirety of the performance centered on sending the message of Believing in Love, and Taking Pride In Who You Are. This performance was nothing short of a remarkable, substantial and incredible take on the values we as an evolving society have, and where our hopes for the future will lead us. This was a monumental moment where I proudly could feel from the bottom of my heart that humanity is full of wonderful and exceptional possibilities, because we haven’t and will not give up the fight for equality in every aspect, and the success of Love triumphing all. That performance for me was a goodwill social responsibility that individuals with a voice and influence over the public took into their own hands.

Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show
SANTA CLARA, CA – FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Beyonce, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Bruno Mars perform onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi’s Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

As an aspiring Public Relations specialist, this was a topic that proved challenging to gather my thoughts and wrap my head around. I would argue that while the best interest should be primarily for the client, it should not transcend any immoral ethics to the public’s best interest. These strategic communicators should take on the responsibility of developing the goodwill intent for the overall audience, not just what sells, not just what might look good on TV, but develop content that is more meaningful, and a more just representation of our developing society. It is for this personal belief that I would like to become a Public Relations manager for a Nonprofit organization with a cause and purpose I believe deserved media attention, and to help accomplish their mission and goals. I have become very particularly interested in the relationship between social issues and the media this past year, and look forward to discover some of the ethical theories and backgrounds behind some of them throughout my Journalism Ethics class this semester.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s