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Advertising Primed: How Professional Identity Affects Moral Reasoning

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Moral reasoning among media professionals varies. Historically, advertising professionals score lower on the Defining Issues Test (DIT) than their media colleagues in journalism and public relations. However, the extent to which professional identity impacts media professionals’ moral reasoning has yet to be examined. To understand how professional identity influences moral reasoning, if at all, and guided by theories of moral psychology and social identity, 134 advertising practitioners working in the USA participated in an online experiment. While professional identity was not a significant predictor of moral reasoning, an interaction effect between gender and identity priming occurred. This finding suggests that we reconsider moral psychology theory’s explanatory power for media practitioners and consider how the complexity of professional identities in concert with gender and professional training, among other variables, interact to affect moral reasoning. In addition, advertising practitioners participating in this experiment scored higher on the DIT than those tested previously.
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Journal of Business Ethics (2021) 171:175–187
Advertising Primed: How Professional Identity Affects Moral
ErinSchauster1· PatrickFerrucci2· EdsonTandoc3· TaraWalker2
Received: 2 August 2019 / Accepted: 8 January 2020 / Published online: 20 January 2020
© Springer Nature B.V. 2020
Moral reasoning among media professionals varies. Historically, advertising professionals score lower on the Defining Issues
Test (DIT) than their media colleagues in journalism and public relations. However, the extent to which professional identity
impacts media professionals’ moral reasoning has yet to be examined. To understand how professional identity influences
moral reasoning, if at all, and guided by theories of moral psychology and social identity, 134 advertising practitioners work-
ing in the USA participated in an online experiment. While professional identity was not a significant predictor of moral
reasoning, an interaction effect between gender and identity priming occurred. This finding suggests that we reconsider moral
psychology theory’s explanatory power for media practitioners and consider how the complexity of professional identities in
concert with gender and professional training, among other variables, interact to affect moral reasoning. In addition, advertis-
ing practitioners participating in this experiment scored higher on the DIT than those tested previously.
Keywords Moral reasoning· Moral psychology· Advertising· Identity priming· Experiment
According to recent statistics, 84% of global consumers
“seek out responsible products whenever possible” (Sustain-
able Brands 2015) and 56% of U.S. consumers suggested
they would stop buying from companies they believed
were unethical (Mintel 2015). In response, marketers and
the brands they promote are engaging in brand activism,
corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, and other
socially responsible marketing practices. Advertising is an
essential promotional practice of marketing, but one that
has historically been criticized as unethical. Considering
the complexity of producing and placing persuasive content
across various platforms with varying degrees of oversight,
and involving many players from advertising practition-
ers and the clients they represent to media producers and
publishers, ethical problems abound. As one might expect,
when asked, consumers suggest that advertising practition-
ers are untrustworthy by comparing the profession to that of
automobile sales (O’Barr 2006), a perception that increased
slightly in 2019 when consumers were asked to rate the
honesty and ethical standards of various professional fields
including advertising (Gallup 2019).
In media ethics scholarship, findings extend beyond
consumer perceptions to suggest how media practitioners
apply moral reasoning. When compared to their colleagues
in other media fields such as journalism and public relations,
advertising practitioners score lower on moral reasoning
measures, such as the Defining Issues Test (DIT) (Cunning-
ham 2005), a widely used, valid and reliable measure used
in moral psychology (Rest etal. 1999; Xu etal. 2017). The
theory of moral psychology, based upon the seminal work of
Piaget (1965) and Kohlberg (1981), initially suggested that
individuals engage in higher levels of moral reasoning as
they age and advance in education (Rest etal. 1977). Since
then, ethicists have applied the DIT to assess moral reason-
ing and to compare reasoning between professions such as
* Erin Schauster
Patrick Ferrucci
Edson Tandoc
Tara Walker
1 University ofColorado Boulder, 1511 University Avenue,
Boulder, CO80309, USA
2 University ofColorado Boulder, Boulder, USA
3 Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Avenue,
Singapore639798, Singapore
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... When they are offered, training programs can vary in both design and implementation; and the extent to which they impact moral reasoning for professionals is unclear (Fraedrich, Cherry, King, & Guo, 2005). While much of the moral psychology research examines the impact of ethics education in college (see Bebeau, 2002), and those examining practitioners have found an increase in moral reasoning due to professional training (e.g., Doyle, Frecknall Hughes, & Summers, 2013), it has also been suggested that for media practitioners, ethics training is not a significant predictor of moral reasoning (Schauster, Ferrucci, Tandoc, & Walker, 2020). ...
... The current findings also suggest that ethics training had no significant impact on moral reasoning similar to recent study utilizing priming (Schauster, Ferrucci, Tandoc, & Walker, 2020), but contrary to a long line of literature in business ethics (e.g., Kaptein, 2015;Ruiz et al., 2015;Trevino & Weaver, 2001) including a study utilizing the DIT (Doyle et al., 2013). Yet by comparison, education was a positive predictor of moral reasoning. ...
Guided by theories of moral psychology and social identity, one hundred and fifty-three public relations practitioners working in the United States participated in an online experiment that tested how professional identity influences moral reasoning. Professional associations appear to be a valuable resource for socialization as members of PRSA who, in addition to engaging in higher levels of moral reasoning than the average adult, report they have access to regular ethics training, ethics resources and mentors, and are familiar with their industry’s code of ethics. Socialization in later career stages appears to contribute to moral reasoning maintenance, sustaining levels of moral reasoning, rather than development.
... Since the 1970s, advertising ethics research largely focused on one of three topics: how advertising practitioners view ethics; how the public perceives ethical issues and, as a result, perceives advertising overall; and organizational and industry-wide codes of ethics (i.e., Drumwright & Murphy, 2004;Fukukawa et al., 2007;Schauster et al., 2016;Waller, 1999). Coinciding with these studies, albeit in limited quantity, are examinations of individual advertising practitioners' moral reasoning (i.e., Cunningham, 2005;Schauster et al., 2020). However, the majority of work examining how practitioners follow and enact normative ethical practices in advertising consist of long-form interviews with practitioners or ethnographic studies of specific organizations. ...
This paradigm repair study contributes to advertising ethics research by analyzing discourse from trade publications and press outlets regarding the divisive 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi advertisement. After the controversary surrounding the commercial ensued, actors within and outside the advertising industry argued the ad violated the ethical boundaries of the industry because it coopted a social issue, acted as a form of cultural appropriation, and served as an example of brand activism (gone awry). This study examines the reasons why this happened and concludes with an argument for paradigm repair's utility for studying advertising ethics, and with implications for advertising practice.
Purpose This study aims to provide important insights in advancing the hospitality workforce by exploring the dimensions of calling. By identifying significant calling dimensions among hospitality employees, the study is guided by work as calling theory by also examining the mediating role of employees’ professional identity on intention to leave the industry. Design/methodology/approach This study used an exploratory mixed-methods approach. Study 1 included an online qualitative survey to explore the significant dimensions of calling among hospitality employees. Study 2 measured the significance of hospitality calling dimensions on intention to leave the industry, mediated by professional identity. Findings Study 1 identified transcendent summons, passion and purposeful life as significant dimensions of hospitality calling. Study 2 examined calling as a second-order construct with the aforementioned dimensions and proposed calling increases professional identity and decreases intention to leave the industry. However, professional identity did not significantly influence the intention to leave the industry. Originality/value This study brings value to the calling literature by exploring the calling dimensions unique to the hospitality workforce. Findings also highlight that subjective professional identity alone cannot lower employees’ intention to leave the industry. Organizational and industry support focusing on transcendent summons, passion and purposeful life are recommended.
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Moral exemplars, individuals admired for their moral goodness, are invaluable resources for education and in practice, especially for practices fraught with ethical challenges such as advertising. The current study is the first to examine the moral psychology profile of advertising executives with a range of strategic communication experience as chief executive officers at regional, national, and international agencies and chief marketing officers for national and international brands. The findings indicate that these executives embrace challenges that encourage ideological and character development, believe in values of empathy and compassion, and engage in higher-order moral reasoning more so than advertising practitioners in general but comparable to other media exemplars. They often apply moral rules and standards equally to everyone when considering their response to an ethical dilemma, and their idealistic thinking is positively correlated with perceptions that their organizations have benevolent and principled ethical climates. These findings give strategic communication practitioners, educators, and ethicists a road map of what to look for in individuals likely to serve in the capacity of moral leadership for others.
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A growing body of psychology-based scholarship identifies emerging adulthood as a distinct, transitional stage of life and work characterized by several features, wherein relatively little is known regarding moral development. This study is part of a 3-year, longitudinal project involving recent graduates across six U.S. universities who studied journalism and media-related fields. Guided by emerging adulthood, moral psychology, and media exemplar research, this study analyzes results for 110 graduates who completed an online survey regarding their personality traits, virtuous character, moral reasoning, and ethical ideology. It constitutes the first detailed portrait of moral identity of emerging adults in media-related fields.
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