They say advertising is dishonest, but they're looking in the wrong place

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One needn’t be a footballing expert to understand the shenanigans at FIFA. I know almost nothing about the sport, but the double-dealing and backhanding are as clear to me as any other observer. So, when people accuse advertising of dishonesty, I find it a little rich.

From plush Swiss headquarters, to the Palace of Westminster, something repugnant has taken hold, like mould on a dank shower curtain. It’s not ambition (a good thing), and it certainly isn't advertising (a neutral thing) – it’s the tolerance of corruption.

This is a culture far more prevalent in other areas, than it is in marketing. Indeed, advertising and marketing are so closely monitored and regulated, the notion the industry is shot through with shady practice is manifestly false. For really untrustworthy goings-on, we need to look elsewhere.  

"They certainly didn’t need the money..."

Slightly overshadowed by the encroaching election, was the story of the MPs Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind selling their political influence to the highest bidders (actually undercover reporters). This certainly damaged their reputations, but has largely been forgotten. What inspired them? They certainly didn’t need the money (despite assertions to the contrary, both were drawing healthy salaries from the public purse). It was simply the conviction that, as prominent parliamentarians, this is what one does: fiddle the system for a bit of personal gain. In fact, just the sort of behaviour both former ministers would condemn out of hand.

Closer to polling day, Grant Shapps – then Conservative party chairman – was caught red-handed, lying about his business affairs. He didn’t resign, he wasn’t sacked, he just blustered through a couple of awkward interviews and was home and dry. One rule for them, another for us? Yes, pretty much.

"Gaming the system is now the default pattern for those with power."

We don’t really expect better of our politicians. Many of them haven’t given us much choice. Indeed, had it not been for some leaked data, they’d all be merrily flipping homes and claiming for moat clearances to this day. However, last year it was revealed several utility companies, and at least one finance house, had invented firms of lawyers and were using these fictitious companies to send letters to late payers.
Gaming the system is now the default pattern for those with power, money or both. It’s expected and generally sustained, even encouraged. Professional football teams treat ‘diving’ as a legitimate tactic, while the suits controlling the sport accept so much dirty cash they rent apartments for their cats. The two scenarios are not unconnected. The measure of success has moved from what one has achieved, to what one has got away with.

This is a depressing state of affairs, but we have little choice but to play on a pitch sloping away from our goal at a steep angle. Sepp Blatter and his dubious chums aren’t uniquely tainted, they’re merely the latest iteration of a spectre haunting many corridors of modern life. But don't let anyone tell you the advertising business is at the forefront of such deception and mendacity. Compared with football and politics, our industry is a bastion of honesty.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter and blogger


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