I caught an ad for Michael Hill jewelry on TV a few nights ago, (timed to coincide with Valentines Day I suppose). If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. (You don’t have to watch it – but this might make more sense if you do.) I think a lot of advertising is (at best) ethically and morally ambiguous, but this ad is interesting because this characteristic is much closer to the surface.
The ad features the portrait style images of people expressing various (and occasionally intense ) emotions, accompanied by the following text, one line at a time.
I’d Die For It
I’d Cheat For It
I’d Lie For It
I’d Fight For It
I’d Turn For It
What Would You Do For Love?
Sure, it seems to be manipulative – that’s hardly unique in advertising. But I can’t help but feel a little troubled at the ideas implied here.
1. “I’d die for it” Sure, it’s the classic romantic gesture when (possibly) referring to self-sacrifice. But there are times when this isn’t justifiable.
2. “I’d cheat for it”. In the context of romantic love, ‘cheating’ could certainly refer to infidelity, though that’s open to interpretation. In any case, it certainly refers to some sort of dishonesty. Whether or not such cheating is ethical or morally justifiable comes down to specifics. But most non-trivial interpretations of ‘cheat’ surely are only justified by extenuating circumstances, if at all. Cheating on one’s partner, committing academic fraud, such as plagiarism, and ripping off a casino are all broadly ‘cheating’, but under most circumstances the fact that you are doing them ‘for love’ does not, in and of itself, render them any less unethical (or immoral if that’s your preference).
3. “I’d lie for it”. Similar to above but even more complicated.
4. “I’d fight for it”. Possibly a euphemism for ‘I’d kill for it’? Again, there are circumstances where ‘fighting’ for love (whatever that means) might be permissible, and others where it is not. Note that I do not include stalking, punching/glassing some guy/girl because they looked at your guy/girl, or not taking ‘no’ for an answer in the permissible category.
5. “I’d turn for it”. Now, this one is complicated. On one hand I have no moral or ethical problem, all things considered, with someone changing their usual sexual preference for the sake of love. On the other hand, the use of ‘turn’ is possibly problematic as it implies choice – as if people can choose to be sexually and/or romantically attracted to men or women. Were the makers of the ad trying to be controversial or edgy here? Some philosophers in the area of gender and feminism might also take interest in the fact that this line was paired with a woman – as if it’s safer PR-wise to suggest that she (rather than a he) might turn (in either direction).
When you add the final “What would you do for love?” the implication is complete. You’d do all these things for love, but you won’t go out and buy something from Michael Hill – what’s wrong with you? Get out there and buy some compressed carbon attached to a bit of metal!
These gestures implied by the ad are dramatic, but I’m not convinced that they are the hardest things that regular people do for love. What about ‘I’d compromise for it’, ‘I’d be honest even when I didn’t want to be’ or ‘I’d put my own interests to one side for it’? Accurate, but not a great way to sell the symbolic purchase of decorative mineral adornments.
Perhaps the ambiguity isn’t the fault of the advertisement – I mean people do sometimes do morally problematic or unethical things for love. Or they tell themselves they do, at any rate.
What I would take exception to would be the implication that otherwise immoral and/or unethical acts (cheating, lying, killing etc.) are somehow excusable in virtue of the fact that a person did them for love.
Does the Michael Hill advertisement imply this? Not directly. But it does imply that you should buy their jewellery ‘for love’, so you have to wonder.