Art History and Media Ethics: A Convergence

October 21, 2008

My public relations and art history classes rarely ever come together on an issue but last week it happened.  Unknowingly, the professor for my Media Ethics class and the professor for my Picasso class brought up a similar topic.

What Happened in Media Ethics
We had been discussing the ethics involved in advertising when my professor asked the class if we would do the advertising or public relations for Philip Morris.  Half the class said they would decline such a job offer even if Philip Morris offered a lot of money because the products essentially kill people.  The other half who would work for Philip Morris said they wouldn’t mind because it is common knowledge what cigarettes will do to you.  They said it’s not like they are putting the cigarettes in people’s hands.  The discussion was more involved than that but you get the idea.

What Happened in Art History
In my Picasso class we were watching a video about his cubism period.  The end of the video documented the making of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism” exhibit.

Picasso Mandolin, 1910
Picasso “Mandolin”, 1910

Picasso and Braque were two artists that single-handedly invented cubism and changed modern art forever.  Very important stuff.  The MOMA exhibit brought together 400 Picasso and Braque works from all over the world to one place.  These works are very expensive and therefore it costs a lot for shipping and insurance.  A nonprofit like MOMA would not have the money for this.  The video pointed out that the show would not have been possible without a donation from Philip Morris.

What is the PR issue?
Philip Morris is a company that produces cigarettes.  Cigarettes kill people, therefore Philip Morris is bad.  Philip Morris is also a company that donates money to nonprofits like MOMA.  Those nonprofits do nice things for the public, therefore Philip Morris is good.  Wait a sec.  How can Philip Morris be good and bad at the same time?  It can’t.  Philip Morris will always have negative connotations no matter how many art exhibits they sponsor.  Cause marketing allows them to draw attention away from the negative side of the company and it generates goodwill for the public but it doesn’t change what the company is really about.

What Would You Do?
I wonder what the people in my Media Ethics class who said they would never work for Philip Morris would say now.  Perhaps the people in my class wouldn’t mind working for Philip Morris as long as they could advertise or practice PR in the philanthropy department.  Would you practice PR or advertise for Phillip Morris?



  1. Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

    Matt Hanson

  2. I can see both sides of this argument and I think its more on personal beliefs if anything. You are correct in the fact that Phillip Morris does have a negative connotation due to the link most people have with that company. It would seem giving money to nonprofits would make them appear more generous to community efforts. If someone wants to be associated with them, it is there choice but I don’t think that should define the character of that person. Some people may feel like they don’t want to be associated with the company and refuse any position with them. On the other hand, some may find it acceptable to be with a company such as Phillip Morris if they can start their career or further enhance their employment outlook. It could be used simply as a “publicity stunt” in order to get some attention in the public. Its a choice that should be completely up to the person or company but one may have to ask at what price may this publicity come at? To me, its a weighty issue and one that should be considered before any decision is made.

  3. It definitely is up to the individual. I don’t think I could work for the part of the company that directly markets cigarettes, but I wouldn’t mind working in the department that helps the company choose where to donate money. Yeah, Philip Morris isn’t my favorite company but if I can help them use their money for good then I wouldn’t feel so bad about being employed by them.

  4. Thats the attitude I believe that people carry into this choice. I don’t think many people would want to feel like they are doing something negative in society so they tend to focus on the positive aspects and it doesn’t seem so bad even if they are working for a parent company that deals with tobacco related products. I don’t know exactly how much money that they put into these donations to organizations but since they are a fairly large company I would assume it is a substantial amount. If they donate money to a museum or some other public building (school, hospital, library, etc.) it tries to put Phillip Morris in a better light even if they are simply “masking” what they may be more widely know for.

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