Ethics Quiz: The Home As Billboard—“Ick!” or Unethical?

The Ad firm Adzookie will make their monthly mortgage payments for people willing to turn their homes into billboards. According to the company’s  CEO, it has received over 1,000 applications from people willing to have their houses turned into something like the eye-sore in the photo.

Your Ethics Quiz: Is this unethical conduct by the company, or merely disgusting, provoking our “Ick!” reflex?

For the Unethical side, consider:

  • The company is taking advantage of bad economic conditions to humiliate homeowners for the company’s financial gain
  • The money will cause the homeowner to become the object of derision in the neighborhood.
  • The experience may be traumatic for families, and especially children, living in the house.
  • The billboardification will lower the quality of life for neighboring families, to whom it will be an eyesore. (Both the company and the homeowner are accountable for this.)
  • It is an abuse of financial power.

“It really blew my mind,” he tells CNN. “I knew the economy was tough, but it’s sad to see how many homeowners are really struggling.”

For the “Icky but Ethical” position:

  • If the alternative is losing the house, the company is performing a service.
  • Nobody is forcing the homeowner to deface his or her home.
  • The homeowner is being fairly compensated.
  • Every neighbor should apply the Golden Rule, and empathize with a family in such financials distress that they would resort to such a strategy.
  • Although this is a strange place to advertise, it is still just advertising.

Which is it? “Ick!” or Unethical?

When PETA offered Octomom $5,000 and a month’s supply of veggie burgers and hot dogs to let PETA compare her to household pets and her children to a litter, and to allow the group to put a sign in her front yard proclaiming, “Don’t Let Your Dog or Cat Become an Octomom! Always Spay or Neuter!”, I wrote:

“Just because an individual of questionable judgement or in desperate straits agrees to let you humiliate them, exploit them or harm them doesn’t change the nature of the act. PETA is using the combination of Suleman’s financial plight and congenital absence of the normal shame impulse to make her and her brood their freakish billboard. They might as well have asked her to tattoo the message on her face, or exhibit herself with her kids in a giant terrarium on the front lawn from 9 to 5….it will exploit a woman and her children, objectifying them, stripping them of human dignity and subjecting them to public degradation in the name of “ethics.” What PETA is doing is not illegal. It is merely cruel, uncaring and wrong. The organization’s conduct proves that it has no ethical bearings at all, only a fixed, relentlessly pursued mission that it will stop at nothing to achieve. When an organization’s membership slips into this kind of an ethics void, our obligation is to reject it and its message, until a responsible, ethical messenger arrives.”

Same verdict here?

I don’t think so. The exploitation of Octomom crosses the ethical line by specifically dehumanizing her and her children. The use of the house as a billboard is still exploitation, but it does not smack of carnival geeks and making drunks dance for quarters. Both are icky, but the billboard scheme is ethical…just barely.

4 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Home As Billboard—“Ick!” or Unethical?

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