The Weekend Mumbo: The media, marketing and morality mess – please explain

Welcome to the Weekend Mumbo,

Strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

A few things have happened recently, particularly this week, which makes the topic of media and marketing industry morals a front runner for discussion again.

Two points straight off the bat. Firstly, it’s a bloody great big grey area. For every person that thinks we should ban something or someone, there is another that thinks the other way.

Secondly, I’ll lay out a few of my own opinions, but I’ll also acknowledge that in this murky territory anyone that thinks there is a definitive perspective is kidding themselves and probably has no place in an industry where borders are constantly shifting.

However, I will make one request of the industry which I think should be entirely feasible.

If you missed it, this week has thrown up a few examples of contentious topics. Teal MP Dr Sophie Scamps called for a ban on junk food advertising on Monday (not the first time we have heard that call) while the AANA came out swinging in response by denouncing a junk food ad ban.

Meanwhile, Seven gave former seriously troubled AFL player Ben Cousins additional air time in Perth reading the sports news in the morning. A fairly high profile position in the west.

This was all after the Guardian late last week made a statement that it would no longer be accepting advertising from betting and wagering brands. It also came after the announcement from Nine that Peter Gleeson, who had been pulled up for significant plagiarism at News Corp, would be a fill-in host at 4BC in Brisbane.

Whether it’s people with “interesting” pasts being given plum opportunities or calls for our industry to back away from supporting certain other industry sectors that allegedly wrong society, it seems like media and marketing has been having a significant struggle of late with its own identity and beliefs.

It even relates back to what my colleague and Mumbrella, editor Shannon Molloy, so skillfully wrote about in the Weekend Mumbo recently around brand support for Pride Month. Is it OK to be a one month out of 12 supporter? Is it even OK to simply not outwardly support it and just carry on doing your thing?

Support for The Voice to Parliament is another big one. In covering Dentsu’s public backing we received a number of unpublishable comments denouncing the backing. Should a business force an opinion on its employees? Was this even forced?

Regardless of the situation, it seems that 2023 has become the year that the media and marketing industry has a good hard look at itself in the mirror.

Let’s go deeper into one example. It was an old friend of Mumbrella that pointed out the splash in Perth Now celebrating the increased presence of Ben Cousins on Seven. On the surface, it’s a highly questionable move.

Even those who are not AFL fans are likely to know that Cousins has an extremely problematic past. He has had a number of off-field controversies including arrests related to drug possession, public intoxication, attempting to flee police, violence, stalking and breaching restraining orders during and after his playing career.

His first incident dated as far back as 2006 and the most recent arrest was in 2018.

By many accounts, he’s apparently pretty clean now. But is that enough? Particularly in an industry where we accept that we have not done enough to support gender equality, is it OK to put Cousins in a relatively high profile role like this one? How do his colleagues feel about it?

The counter argument is, of course, that everyone deserves a second chance. Or a third. Or perhaps a fourth, and so on. I’d argue that our industry is pretty good at giving them out. Deservedly or otherwise.

But regardless, what we didn’t get upfront was any detail on why his previous issues were not deemed an issue for this role. In the Perth Now (owned by SWM) story, there was nothing but glorification of his playing career.

What about problematic businesses – agencies or clients?

When it comes to who this industry does business with, there are too many challenging ones to list here. Junk food, alcohol, betting and wagering, fossil fuels, etcetera. And you may or may not think they are problematic.

Protesters were out and about in Cannes recently drawing attention to the work of Edelman for fossil fuel companies. It’s not the first time Edelman has been in the firing line. Earlier this year in an article in The Guardian it was pulled up for the irony of giving advice via its Trust Barometer while having worked with clients including ExxonMobil and the Saudi Arabian government.

A few weeks ago we ran the Mumbrella Finance Marketing Summit. At the end of the day I stood around in a group of industry executives discussing, in part, betting and wagering clients as well as alcoholic beverage clients.

The group was split in terms of either taking on those clients or working for them directly versus drawing a line in the sand and not being involved. But it was also far harsher on betting and wagering brands than it was on alcoholic beverage brands.

It was a long debate that didn’t solve any of the world’s major problems but it did do one thing – provide a number of perspectives that were explained in detail. That’s the important point I will end with.

I said I would share with you some personal opinions. I don’t like junk food advertising to kids at all. I agree with Alice Almeida’s sentiment that kids shouldn’t be on social platforms early in their lives either. I grew up in a household where a weekly trip to the TAB was the norm but I am not a fan of the Hollywoodification of betting and wagering products by some brands. I dislike how this industry protects some people it shouldn’t protect.

I also acknowledge that the businesses that we have been speaking of as being contentious are legal businesses that have a right to advertise within the regulations.

But here is the reality. This industry is no different to any others for the most part. Every industry has its issues. But the key phrase there is “for the most part”. Should this industry be held to a higher standard?

I would ask of the industry just one thing. Do what you feel is right for you or your brand, but back it up. Like the group I was speaking to at the Finance Marketing Summit did. Or like Dr Sophie Scamps and the AANA did. Or Dentsu. Be on the front foot and explain the decision making. Don’t leave employees, clients, agencies, investors, supporters, the public or whoever else in the dark.

If you’re going to make the decision, back it.

Why is agency X proud that it has won the pitch for betting brand Y? Why did media brand A decide hiring celebrity B was appropriate for its business, audience and advertisers? Why does brand D with agency E feel it’s OK to pitch a product at a certain demographic?

Now would be a great time for our industry to get on the front foot and answer the questions up front about moves they know will be contentious.

Whatever you believe, there is one thing for sure. Our industry is in the business of creating high profiles, for people and businesses. High profiles have influence, therefore answers and justifications for certain decisions should be expected. This industry should indeed be held to a higher standard because of that.

Sermon over.

Rest of the week and signing off

Most of the topics I thought were of particular interest I outlined above so I’ll just get straight to the sign off via a few other interesting stories.

There is clearly something up at Paramount ANZ after its move with Nickelodeon and withdrawal from the Melbourne Cup coverage bidding. As one commenter said, “If 10 have a strategy, I can’t see it.”

Foxtel has departed the Premium Content Alliance. A big move which is not ideal for the Alliance. Meanwhile, on the account front, Amart, Specsavers and Oxfam all made moves.

As did Pat Crowley actually, in the most obvious move that still came as a surprise.

And in the best news of the week, for me, editor Shannon Molloy returns to the desk on Monday, meaning I can hang up my editor’s hat for now and return it to someone who fits it much better than I do.

A big kudos to him for having completed the Kokoda trail. Do ask him about it when you see him, I am sure there will be one or two stories to tell.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.