“Start the car!” shouts the woman in a ubiquitous IKEA TV commercial for its “Winter Sale.” She has received her receipt, and the total is so low that she assumes there has been a mistake. She quickly exits the store with bags of purchases, and while running calls to her husband in the car outside so he will pick her up and hit the gas before someone comes to reclaim the merchandise or demand more payment. As they drive away with what she thinks are her ill-gotten gains, she lets out a whoop of triumph.
The narration explains that IKEA’s sale prices are so low, this how you will feel.
The commercial is unethical. It trivializes and normalizes theft, and rejects the ethical values of honesty, integrity and responsibility. Apparently the ad has been running internationally for a long time (it only just started showing up in my region) and is very popular. Writes one industry commentator, “People relate to the message because at one point or another while shopping we’ve all had that feeling that we just got away with something.”
Really? I haven’t. My father didn’t either (my mom was another story.) I’ve told waitresses and clerks that they undercharged me. I’ve returned excessive change. I’ve handed back money to tellers when two bills stuck together. You don’t? What the hell’s the matter with you? Were you raised by Fagin?
Though the commercial was a hit and positively accepted in all of the nations where it was viewed, there is hope: it also received many negative comments and complaints. An Advertising Standards Board—I cannot for the life of me find out which; the U.S. has no such board. I’m guessing Sweden— thus considered whether this advertisement breached its Advertisers Code of Ethics.
The breach would be that the commercial isn’t socially responsible, since it represents taking merchandise from a store that hasn’t been fully paid for as normal and acceptable conduct. The Board viewed the advertisement in light of the complaints and decided that the ad was ethically inoffensive.
No, go ahead, guess.
First I was going to post an essay about Cinnebon’s humorous tweet above under the title “How Humor Dies.” Our culture is in serious trouble if a clever, playful, obvious joke like this attracts so much criticism that it generates a retraction and an apology.Clearly, there are Political Correctness Furies on the Left and Puritan Scolds on the Right lurking and lying in wait to make any attempt at levity too much of a risk for all but the socially inept or defiantly rude to attempt. I confess, I laughed out loud when I saw Cinnebon’s gag. I thought the company deserved applause, not opprobrium.
Then I thought about it, and decided to make the episode an Ethics Alarms ethics quiz. Does the fact that Cinnebon can be accused of using Carrie Fisher’s tragic death as product promotion outweigh the cleverness of the tweet, or was the joke a natural one for the sticky bun-makers to make? Who better to remind us of all the jokes about Leia’s odd hairstyle when “Star Wars” debuted? Maybe this was one example where the “she would have approved” standard might be more than a rationalization. Is there any doubt that Carrie Fisher would have laughed at Cinnebon’s joke more heartily than anyone?
Fortunately, I thought some more.
I hadn’t realized until just a few minutes ago that the tweet was issued on the day Carrie Fisher died. Ick, and also, yecchh, as well as “Ethics Foul!”
It doesn’t matter how clever, well-executed or funny it was. Krusty the Clown could have told Cinnebon what was wrong with the tweet in a trice, if they had the sense to ask, and Krusty wasn’t a cartoon character.
Some readers were offended that I noted in a comment here that Debbie Reynolds characteristically upstaged her daughter by dying a day after Carrie Fisher, again stealing the spotlight from her daughter. Sorry about that—but it’s true. For most of her life, Reynolds was less than comfortable when she didn’t feel an audience watching her, as Fisher herself complained in her semi-autobiographical novel, “Postcards from the Edge.” Debbie Reynolds shared the life-defining neurosis of many performers: she was happiest when she was being herself for the world to see. Debbie, in fact, was an extreme version of this model. Most such performers are miserable, and recognizably so, when they aren’t performing. Reynolds appeared not to acknowledge that there was a world off-screen.
In “The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds,” an excellent appreciation of her career today in the New York Times (another good one is this, in “Variety,”and the Times obituary is here.), Anita Gates confirms my assessment. It was hardly a difficult one, for Reynolds radiated her love of performing in everything she did. Here are some excerpts (do read the whole essay), as Gates begins by doubting that we will ever see a show business figure like Debbie Reynolds again in our increasingly cynical culture:
“Who’ll be as plucky? Who’ll work as hard to stay as morally pure? Who the hell is gonna be named Debbie? …We’ve all been happy to be at the movies. She always seemed happy to be in the movies. She never ceased to be thrilled to be herself. Ms. Reynolds, who died Wednesday, didn’t so much act as sell — she sold happiness, she sold pragmatic romance, she sold professional stardom…Ms. Reynolds was, as they say, a trouper. So she did what came naturally to her: She trouped… Ms. Reynolds embraced virtue. She was the least ostensibly neurotic of her peers — a class that included Shirley MacLaine and Doris Day. The movie titles got a lot of that anti-anxious decency across. She played “The Singing Nun,” for heaven’s sake. But she also starred in the 1964 musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a title whose adjective best explains the full Debbie Reynolds experience: maximum buoyancy…”
When a time came to take a public stand on principle, however, Debbie Reynolds proved that she had her priorities straight. Continue reading
A 30-second promotional clip for today’s episode of “Dr. Phil” is disturbing, beyond question. It shows Shelley Duvall, from “The Shining,” “Popeye,” “Nashville” and other well-known films talking to the fake doctor about her mental illness.The syndicated advice show’s promo shows Duvall, almost unrecognizable, talking about how her “Popeye” co-star, the late Robin Williams, is alive and “shape-shifting.” She says she is being threatened by Robin Hood’s Sheriff of Nottingham, and that a “whirring disc” is inside her.
The ad ends with Duvall, 67, telling Phil McGraw, “I’m very sick. I need help.”
She certainly sounded like it, and looked like it too.
Now Dr. Phil is being criticized for exploiting a vulnerable mentally ill woman for her audience drawing powers. The daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who directed Duvall in her most famous role as Jack Nicholson’s terrorized wife in “The Shining,” is leading the charge. Vivian Kubrick called for a boycott of the popular daytime program, tweeting, “You are putting Shelley Duvall ‘on show’ while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably, this is purely a form of lurid and exploitative entertainment — it’s appallingly cruel.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Is it unethical for “Dr. Phil” to feature Shelley Duvall this way?
Question: Is the former Verizon Wireless spokes-character whose tag line was “Can you hear me now?” unethical to star in commercials for Verizon competitor Sprint?
Answer: No, because that character, “the Test Man,” wasn’t real.
The real actor who played him, Paul Marcarelli, was playing a character and reading a script. He was acting the role of someone who told the audience how good the Verizon Wireless network was. He didn’t have to believe what he said was true. His loyalty extended no farther than his contractual obligations. The actor wasn’t ethically obligated to use Verizon Wireless, like it, understand it or believe in it, any more than Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world” has to really be interesting. Once the first ad series was dropped, he was a free agent.
Verizon could have included some kind of non-compete provision in the contract, forbidding Marcarelli from doing ads for a competitor, at least for a while. It definitely could have prevented him from playing the same character as he played in the Verizon commercials, because that character is owned by Verizon. However, Marcarelli uses his real name, Paul, in those Sprint ads, so he can argue that he’s not playing the Verizon character, but himself, and he owns the rights to “Paul Marcarelli.”
However, I do think the Sprint ads are unethical, and so obviously dishonest that they reflect poorly on Sprint. Continue reading