In Brussels, Belgium, for celebrations surrounding the 50th
anniversary of the World Federation of Advertisers, Archbishop John P.
Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications,
delivered the following intervention on 28 October 2003. The speech was
voted best of the Conference.
First of all, please permit me to congratulate the World
Federation of Advertisers on your 50th anniversary.
Since I first became aware of this organization about 10
years ago, when we were preparing our Vatican document on "Ethics
in Advertising", I have been impressed both by the professionalism and
concern for integrity on the part of the staff and members of the
organization with whom I have come into contact. Congratulations on the
professional and ethical standards you have been setting for the
advertising community for the past 50 years.
First of all, I know the tremendous good that advertising
can do; and I refer not only to the public interest campaigns which are
sometimes sponsored by the industry itself or by individual agencies.
I refer also to the fact that you contribute in no small
way to economic, social and even moral progress.
The role of good advertising
Sound advertising makes useful products and services
known; it contributes to wider employment; it educates the public; in so
many ways, it contributes to raising the standard of living; it promotes
understanding and tolerance.
In fact, on many occasions, I have said: "I love
advertising". I read it, I look at it, I listen to it, because I'm truly
interested. Because you're really trying to get people's attention,
advertising is among the best communication being done in the world today:
through production values, through design, through choice of words and
images. I am a fan of advertising, even though I'm not much of a consumer.
I have also said on many occasions that the Catholic
Church has been engaged in advertising since the time of Jesus; we call it
evangelization, or making known the Gospel, the Good News of Christ; we
really believe our message; and we offer much more than a lifetime
guarantee. Our promise, the promise of God, is eternal, and you can't get
a better guarantee than that.
On the other hand, more than 30 years ago, the then
Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, at the urging of the
Bishops of the Catholic Church who had gathered at the Second Vatican
Council in the early 1960s, issued a pastoral instruction entitled "Communio
et Progessio" (Communion and Progress), in which it was said about
"If harmful or utterly useless goods are touted to the
public, if false assertions are made about goods for sale, if less than
admirable human tendencies are exploited, those responsible for such
advertising harm society and forfeit their good name and credibility".
'Being is better than having'
On a more profound level, I would like to discuss with you
several principles and concerns.
The first principle is: Being is better than having.
There are some people who think that if they don't have
the fanciest car or the latest shoes or the shirt with the correct logo,
they are "out of it", not worthy of the esteem of their peers.
You and I know that "being is better than having", that
our essential God-given human dignity is not based upon the possessions
which we have. We also know that our dignity is enhanced not by the shirt
we wear or the car we drive but by the virtues we manifest and by our
authenticity and integrity.
I think you, as advertisers, face a terrible dilemma: you
obviously want to sell your product or service, but very few of you, I am
convinced, want to make people feel bad or unworthy if they cannot afford
to buy the product or service you are advertising.
In short, in your advertising, try not to put poor people
down, even subconsciously.
Emphasize quality, emphasize efficiency, emphasize even
better grooming and cleanliness and good appearance
please do not suggest that a possession is going to make one person better
than another person.
Perhaps not one of you even or ever intends to communicate
that message, but that is the message which some people receive, and some
young people, in particular, wind up with a very poor self image; not
because of who they are but because of what they do not have or cannot
Treat each person with respect
Truth is or at least should be a basic principle in
advertising as in all communication, and a basic truth for all of us to
consider is that being is prior to and indeed essentially better than
A second principle is: Each person must be treated with
It frankly surprises me that, as women rightly fight for
equality of treatment in politics and in business, they are still so often
exploited in the media in general and in advertising in particular as
objects, as sex symbols. Such exploitation has now apparently been
extended to men as well.
Thus, while no one would deny the justifiable attraction
of love and romance in life, I think we would all resent being treated as
objects rather than as persons. We resent it as employees if we are
treated as factors of production rather than as persons; we can resent it
in advertising if individuals depicted are portrayed as objects rather
than as persons and, indeed, if we
audience of consumers
treated as so many numbers to be reached instead of as persons to whom an
important message is to be communicated.
I would hope that communication in general, including and
perhaps especially advertising, would keep in mind the priority of the
dignity of the human person: the dignity of the persons portrayed, the
dignity of the individual members of the audience to be reached.
Promoting the common good
A third principle of ethics in communication is the common
A growing concern in democratic societies is the ethical
aspect of political campaigning.
While the document of our Pontifical Council for Social
Communications, "Ethics in Advertising", published six years ago,
recognizes the advantages of political advertising for informing people
about candidates and about issues, it also notes that political
advertising can obstruct the working of the democratic process when, for
example, "the costs of advertising limit political competition to wealthy
candidates or groups, or require that office-seekers compromise their
integrity and independence by over-dependence on special interests for
"Such obstruction of the democratic process also happens",
our document notes, "when, instead of being a vehicle for honest
expositions of candidates' views and records, political advertising seeks
to distort the views and records of opponents and unjustly attacks their
It is to be hoped that, in political life, office-holders
and candidates of integrity will enlist advertising agencies of integrity
to present their views in a sound and attractive manner, thus contributing
to an intelligent dialogue in society.
It is also to be hoped that sound campaign financing
legislation might be passed in all nations with a view to helping
candidates present their message without financial contributions
corrupting or co-opting them.
Frankly, I think that sound campaign financing legislation
is an imperative in many countries, including my own, the United States of
including a requirement that radio and television stations make time
available to all candidates with a proven significant constituency to
present their positions in a responsible and informative manner. It is one
of the ironies of campaign financing legislation that it must be passed by
the very legislators whose offices are being sought by others. Those in
office sometimes understandably seek not to level the playing field of
electoral competition but to tilt it in their own favour. It can demand
political heroism to offer an opponent an equal chance.
Advertising has lasting influence
As you know, advertising profoundly affects the values and
the morals in society, and not just people's buying habits.
I hope you realize your own power and that you continue to
use it responsibly, as so many of you do.
I would like to conclude with a word of admiration.
The presentation of the Good News of Jesus Christ could
benefit from the creativity and skill of the advertising community. Jesus
himself did it well, with his parables
we who follow him have often been guilty of the fault which many consider
the greatest sin of all in the modern world
are often dull. Since I believe that we have the most important message in
the world, please help us to be interesting in making it better known.
But whatever product, service or candidate you advertise
and no matter how you do it, I would hope you would keep in mind our
ultimate purpose in life and make of all of your advertising messages that
are true, worthy of the dignity of the human person and helpful to the
The recently beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta, while
she didn't use advertising, became an advertiser's dream. She motivated us
all to be better and never to forget the poorest and apparently least
members of society.
She made of every day and of every action what I would
hope we would wish to do with our creativity, no matter what product or
service we are presenting; realize the dignity and impact of your work and
make something beautiful for God.