Advertising morality: Maintaining moral worth in a stigmatized profession


Andrew C. Cohen and Shai M. Dromi. 2018. “Advertising morality: Maintaining moral worth in a stigmatized profession.” Theory & Society. Download
Advertising morality: Maintaining moral worth in a stigmatized profession


Although a great deal of literature has looked at how individuals respond to stigma, far less has been written about how professional groups address challenges to their self-perception as abiding by clear moral standards. In this paper, we ask how professional group members maintain a positive self-perception in face of moral stigma. Drawing on pragmatic and cultural sociology, we claim that professional communities hold narratives that link various aspects of the work their members perform with specific understanding of the common good. These narratives allow professionals to maintain a shared view of their work as benefitting society and to perceive themselves as moral individuals. As a case study, we focus on the advertising industry, which has long been stigmatized as complicit in exploitative capitalist mechanisms and cultural degradation. We draw on 9 total months of fieldwork and 74 interviews across three U.S. advertising agencies. We find that advertising practitioners use narratives to present their work as contributing to the common good, depicting themselves as moral individuals who care about others in the process. We analyze three prevalent narratives: the account-driven narrative, which links moral virtue to caring for clients; the creative-driven narrative, which ties caring to the production of meaningful advertisements; and the strategic-driven narrative, which sees caring in finding meaningful relationships for consumers and brands.


*Winner of the 2018 ASA Altruism, Moraity, and Social Solidarity Section's Outstanding Published Article Award

Last updated on 04/19/2018