Ron Smith's Teaching Notes on ...

Ethical Issues in Advertising

Advertising and promotion offer many opportunities to an organization public relations and integrated strategic communication program. Advertising is by its nature an element of persuasion. Its history includes mamny examples of questionable practices. Thus the role of advertising in public relations calls for careful ethical analysis and consideration.

Updated Summer 2011 as a supplement to Prof. Smith's textbooks,
Strategic Planning for Public Relations and Becoming a Public Relations Writer, (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).

 

Advertising Ethics

Ethical Criteria

Advocacy

Accuracy

Acquisitiveness / Conspicuous Consumption

 

Ethical Questions

Who should/shouldn't be the target of advertising?

Who should/shouldn't be exposed to advertising, whether targetted or not?

What products, services, or ideas should/shouldn't be advertised?

What should/shouldn't be relationship between advertising content and medium?

What should/shouldn't be advertisers' obligation to society?

 

7 Ethical Challenges for Advertising Practitioners

Treating clients fairly

Treating advertising audiences fairly

Creating honest, nonmisleading, socially desirable ads

Representing healthy, useful, and ethical products, services, and/or ideas

Treating supplier, vendors, and media fairly

Treating employees and management of agency fairly

Treating other agencies fairly

 

Ethical Issues in Advertising

Puffery & Hype: Exaggerated by legal claims (Hallmark cards: “When you want to send the very best.” Everready Batteries: “Nothing outlasts an Eveready battery”

Good Taste: Stereotyping (gender, race, ethnicity, age, lifestyle, handicaps, religion)

Stealth Advertising: Promotional messages embedded in a story line but not explicitely presented as advertising

Advertising to Children: Congtroversial products (alcohol, tobacco, gambling)

Gratuitous Sexual Content: Using nudity, sexual imagery, and sex appeal, both explicitely and by innuendo, for the purpose of attracgting attention, despite little or no inherent seual aspects of the product/service/idea being advertised

Negative Content: Fear appeals, guilt appeals, threats

 

 


Ethical Standards

Here are some codes from various organizations and nations. Note the connection between these codes and social values, polical openness, transparancy, and various approaches to democracy and capitalism.

American Advertising Federation
Better Business Bureau

Australia
Canada
Japan
India
Malasia
New Zealand
Philippines
Vatican

 


Ethical Questions

Discuss the ethical implications of two potential advertisements: (1) A TV advertisement for a political candidate includes images of the Twin Towers collapsing, with a get-tough-on-terrorism message from a candidate for governor. (2) A magazine ad shows two tall classes of a soft drink, positioned somewhat like the Twin Towers, with the message "Collapse into summer."
What practical considerations apply?
What do ethical codes advise?
What is your ethical judgment about this?
What would you do?

You are asked to develop an ad campaign for a new cigarette. The advertiser wants you to build the campaign around high-profile entertainers, specifically those who frequently appear on Fox TV programs. You know many of these programs are aimed at teen audiences.
What practical considerations apply?
What do ethical codes advise?
What is your ethical judgment about this?
What would you do?
 

A local church asks you to develop an advertising campaign to promote its conservative views on fidelity in marriage, chastity before marriage, the dominant role of the father/husband in family life, and opposing gay marriage and civil unions.
What practical considerations apply?
What do ethical codes advise?
What is your ethical judgment about this?
What would you do?
 

Another local church asks you to develop an advertising campaign to promote its liberal agenda including opposition to the death penalty, tolerance of divorce, expansion of social services to the poor, and respect to gay persons.
What practical considerations apply?

What do ethical codes advise?
What is your ethical judgment about this?
What would you do?

A local group asks you to develop an advertising campaign to generate public support for a gambling casino. You are aware of a new study by the Sociology Department at your university that links the introduction of gambling in an area with increases in crimes such as prostitution and burglary, and social problems such as increase in divorce, child neglect, and addictions.
What practical considerations apply?
What do ethical codes advise?
What is your ethical judgment about this?
What would you do?
 

You have been asked to develop an advertising campaign for a development company planning an exclusive gated community that, you are told off the record, will accept few or no minority residents.
What practical considerations apply?

What do ethical codes advise?
What is your ethical judgment about this?
What would you do?