A women addresses an international conference with the shocking tale of how she was living in a village in Africa that was attacked by government solders.

Most of the village was burned to the ground, many of the villagers mutilated and killed, women raped and children slaughtered. The incident was one of many that the world knew nothing about.

Funded by big corporations, the soldiers were clearing out protestors and villages that stood in the way of mining and oil interests.

The woman, Jennifer D’Arcy, was enslaved by the soldiers – her story was a one of utter horror, you can only imagine what happened. After a year in captive she finally she escaped.

The Burning Village

At first no one would listen to her. Who could she turn to? The police and politicians were all dishonest. Even charity workers knew it was better not to upset the delicate situation. The corrupt system protected the government, soldiers and the corporations.

Finally, being an educated woman, Jennifer was able to write her story which was published in an American newspaper. She got invited onto radio shows, then TV shows. She wrote a book, The Burning Village, further spreading the word and the condemnation of a corrupt corporations, an evil government and it’s leader.

She was invited to talk at conferences and heard on a global stage. Politicians surrounded her, charities applauded her courage, and the public rallied to her cry.

International investigations revealed an even greater catalogue of abuse, genocide and horrors, followed by sanctions and global condemnation.

Finally she was creating change and that change would save future lives and bring justice to those victims of commercial interests and an evil government.

But as she stepped off the podium, after an emotive speech ,she was approached by an ambitious young journalist who had, by luck rather than skill, discovered her one secret.

She was not the actual person in her story. Jennifer had lied.

As true as it all actually was, only one fact was wrong, the real victim of the story had been Alice.

Alice did escape and told Jennifer her story, she was the only one who did listen. But a few weeks later she died of illness. Jennifer, desperate to reveal the true horrors of what was happening, knew she had to tell Alice’s story as her own to win hearts and mind and create change. People respond more to a victim that survived than a narrator.

The journalist planned to expose her as fraud, destroy her credibility, her book and all she worked for.

Despite her pleading with him and explaining it was the only way to get the world to sit up and notice, he was unmoved. This was a big story, she was a big name and it would make his name and career. He defended his decision on the moral ground that it was his moral duty to tell the truth and that he was not responsible for the outcome.

That outcome would condemn many to death and a propaganda triumph for a brutal leader.

She argued that she had a moral duty to protect lives and reveal the truth about corporate corruption and the brutality of a government. And that she’d promised Alice to bring justice to the victims.

She said that if he was truly moral he had to accept the consequences of his actions, “Morals come with responsibility,she commented.

Who is morally more right than the other?

The majority of people may well side with her, her overall aim was selfless, while the ambitious young journalist’s aims were selfish. His moral stance was a cover to disguise his true motivations.

But some would argue that truth is more important than anything. That Jennifer should have found another way and the journalist was right to expose her.

Bringing this back to Adland, how do we decide when we are faced with moral dilemmas like companies marketing to children and encouraging them to develop bad eating habits, or bad values? I think it’s easy to say no to marketing cigarettes to kids but sweets, trainers or technology? And how do we feel when our kids are got to?

Or a company that targets the vulnerable, like elderly people, single people, disable people or the poor (think payday loans)?

How do we deal with a brand that you know are lying and using ads to spin an ethical image, when in fact they are anything but ethical?

A friend of mine was an account manager at an agency working on a well known energy company. She questioned the client about claims the company was making in the TV ads that they would be carbon neutral by 2012. The reply shocked her, “Who cares if we are or not, by 2012 no one will remember what we said.”

What about selling vanity products to women that don’t really work or are over priced repackaged E45?

Healthy food that isn’t healthy? Fashion that was made in sweat shops but the brand’s managed to cover over the fact? Drugs or therapies that don’t really work? Or technology that take away our free thought and turns us into mindless robots?

How about marketing a religion or political party that advocates hate towards key groups in society?

For many people it’s easy to take the money rather than the responsibility. For a few they will say no or even whistleblow.  If caught they will be punished, condemned and even sued because big companies can. It takes a brave person to make a stand.

We had an incident several years ago on Brand Republic when we were threatened with legal action by a well known big brand over a blog I wrote that was factually based but revealed they were involved in killing union leaders in South America. Despite all the facts had being published in the Wall Street Journal, we were forced to take the blog down. Big companies have bigger lawyers!

As for the tale of Jennifer? The journalist decided to go forward with his story. But lucky for her, the editor, who had been a journalist in several war zones and seen the real horrors of what can happen, he had a different set of values and didn’t publish it.

She carried on doing good, carrying her secret with her.

Now this leaves me with a moral dilemma…and I’m not sure if I should tell you one little fact I’ve not revealed. I think I need to consider the consequence of doing so before I do, because it comes with a responsibility

[to be continued]


Top 10 moral dil

  • Chris J Arnold

    Names have been changed by the way.

  • Katey Walter