Ethical Concerns about Advertising

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This memo attempts to give an insight into the unethical advertising and its features. Unethical practices in advertising are deceptive acts that have a significant impact on consumers and society as a whole. An effort is made to find out the purposes of creating unethical advertisements and determine possible ways to increase public awareness on the issue. In addition, this memo attempts to evaluate ethical concerns associated with advertising using of women and the role advertising plays in the development of children.

Unethical Advertising

Advertisings are messages about companies, products or services, which are targeted at consumers in order to inform, persuade, and/or remind. The main purposes of effective advertisements are to promote loyalty, brand recognition, and increase sales for a company. However, advertising campaigns can also have other hidden intentions. Many enterprises have been accused of subtly or openly damaging public well-being and taking no notice of ethical standards.

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Advertising has a great influence on society. It plays a significant role in shaping their attitudes and consumer behavior. Advertising is considered unethical if it interferes with social values and norms formed by the governmental or religious institutions. It is also deceptive if it has the tendency to cheat the audience in a material way.

The development of a distribution system, the market requirements have helped develop different promotional methods. Advertising, as one of those methods, is one of the most valuable things for producers as well as for consumers. Consumers react to it because of it is widespread and has an ability to attract attention. In general, advertisements tell us what one must buy if he or she wants to be what he or she wishes to be.

Therefore, advertising can have a great impact on culture as well as change people’s attitudes and behavior concerning the most important aspects of their lives, even when it has nothing to do with their buying habits. Hence, Srivastava and Nandan argue that advertising has a profound influence on the way people and society as a whole understand life, the world, and themselves.

Nevertheless, advertising has been particularly exposed to criticism regarding the honesty and general social impact of advertising. Advertising influences society deeply due to its spread, stereotypical pictures, manipulative and convincing nature, its ability to promote materialism and consumerism, repeated use of sex appeals, and misleading or deceptive information.

Another area of concern is that advertising targets potentially vulnerable social groups such as children or minorities. In addition, advertising can be related to unethical or careless usage of harmful or offensive products.

Most of the ethical concerns about advertising deal with both social and legal aspects of the process. It is a challenging task to draw the precise line between ethical and unethical ads. That is why disputes about ethics in marketing often cause complex ethical dilemmas with two or more “right’’ values.

Therefore, Srivastava and Nandan define advertising ethics as the priority to organize the content of advertising without denying the individual’s right to know about commercial product. The information of advertising is constructed concerning the value of society and standard moral principles.

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Advertising that Manipulates and Undermines People’s Autonomy

A current arena of unethical advertising also includes the use of subliminal advertising. Subliminal ads involve communication approaches that aim to target individuals’ subconscious processes.

Human brains are very sensitive. They perceive almost any message from the surrounding environment, even though it may not be a conscious process. According to Jue and Mujtaba, this subconsciously picked information may produce the same effect on an individual’s behavior as information he or she consciously looks for.

Methods that can be adopted to influence consumers decision using subliminal advertising have been a subject of numerous research studies. According to the article by David Wahlberg, a new use of a developing technology has raised a lot of controversy. Specialists at Emory University in Atlanta are conducting studies on changes brain activity has while processing various images. Doctors use complex MRI scanners for this purpose. One of the main arguments against these studies is that, instead of struggling to understand mental illness, scientists are looking for ways to define what advertising images will help increase sales of clothes, food, and cars. Many people blame these researchers for trying to find a “buy button” in the human brain. Critics argue that such practices undermine people’s autonomy and appear as mind control techniques.

Therefore, neurological studies of the human brain in terms of subliminal advertising raise another ethical dilemma. On the one hand, it is a manipulative and dishonest way to increase sales of products to unsuspecting consumers. On the other hand, it can be considered only as a new and more scientific way to conduct a consumer interest research. The best way to resolve this dilemma is to follow utilitarianism by eliminating the ethical decision that inflicts the biggest damage to society.

Freedom of Speech and Advertising

In recent times, public pressures and bans on some types of advertising have contradicted with the First Amendment. The Amendment applies commonly to most types of commercial speech that is protected by the First Amendment. This means that consumers have a right to get truthful and relevant information with the help of advertising in mass media. Therefore, deceptive or misleading advertising does not fall under the protection of the First Amendment.

Many arguments are based on the use of sex in advertising. There are different understandings of what is acceptable regarding the use of sex appealing images in marketing. Supporters of the use of sexuality in ads include liberals, who dislike censorship and try to defend the freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Opponents against the use of sex appeals in advertising most commonly include feminists, who claim that such types of advertising is offensive to women. Conservatives also disapprove sexual use and encourage people to support moral values.

A lot of controversy is associated with smoking that is why voices of companies who produce cigarettes are typically ignored. Cigarette ads are banned not due to censorship but because of the health issues that are related to smoking. Smoking manufacturers encourage a dangerous habit. Therefore, the government is making efforts to ban cigarette promotion, even though the First Amendment protects advertisements. Companies that produce alcohol also have a right to advertise, just as any other industry. The First Amendment also ensures this right.

On the other side, unethical advertising can be dishonest; it can encourage consumerism and produce misleading claims creating confusion among consumers. However, laws that regulate advertisements should be minimal. The public can self-regulate dishonest or deceptive advertising with the help of personal boycotts. Various consumer advocacy groups notify the public about unethical advertisements, products or services of low quality, and potentially harmful products. Government protects consumers putting warning labels on potentially harmful goods.

Advertising and Women

Women often appear in advertising for creating sexual appeal messages. Sexual nature of advertisings draws attention to them. Those ads are more likely to be remembered more often than the other ones. Women have been the focus in advertising with sexual nature in the past and present. Ethics concerns play a great role regarding women in advertising.

It is a questionable issue of whether or not the use of sex appeal in advertising should be considered unethical. Many people argue that women are treated with disrespect and discrimination in those advertisements. There is no clear opinion of what can be considered ethical or unethical regarding advertising. However, advertisers can find a way to use sexual appeals without insulting women in the process.

Women often feel themselves unattractive due to pervasive consequence of advertising. Images of thin models make women believed that they are not good enough. This is the reason for the rapid development of the weight-loss, fashion, and cosmetics businesses, which belong to the most profitable industries in the world.

Another ethical issue has appeared because advertising most often show women as sex objects in order to attract men’s attention and increase the appeal. This has a great impact on the way women think, especially young ones, who are developing their sense of identity. Such ads send the underlying message that the main thing about women is their appearance. Consequently, self-esteem of many women becomes dependent upon men’s appreciation. Transformation of women into sex objects has a very harmful effect on them. The continuous exploitation of women’s sexuality in order to boost sales has completely deformed a perception of sexuality and a role of women in society.

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Ethics of Green Marketing and Greenwashing

In the U.S., corporations in various fields consider promoting their “greenness” in advertisements to be of great benefit. Many set up unclear and doubtful claims about their environmental policies. Other companies are more precise, but it can be still hard to understand the meaning of their claims. The term for advertising that reassures environmental involvement, which the company can offer, is “greenwashing.” Nowadays, some critics argue that the impact of “greenwashing” can become more than just not following marketing ethics.

One of the main reasons for “greenwashing’ is that companies are trying to meet increasing consumer demands for products and services that do not pose threat to the environment.

Greenwashing claims are categorized into the so-called “seven sins of greenwashing”:

1. Sin of the hidden trade-off: companies label a product as “green” basing on a narrow set of attributes, without consideration for other significant environmental issues.

2. Sin of no proof: companies arise environmental claims without any proof or using a certification from trustworthy third party.

3. Sin of vagueness: companies set up poorly formulated or broad claims, which can be easily misunderstood by the consumers.

4. Sin of irrelevance: claims are truthful but provide no help for consumers who look for environment-friendly goods.

5. Sin of lesser of two evils: claims are truthful, but they distract the consumer’s attention from a bigger health or environmental issues.

6. Sin of fibbing: claims are intentionally deceptive or false.

7. Sin of false labels: companies label their products with fake third-party certification.

Advertising to Children

Advertising has a considerable impact on children’s development. Certain ads that children see influence them in many ways. Advertisements targeted on adults, including cigarettes and alcohol, could be extremely harmful to children. It can become one of the factors of promoting alcoholism and smoking.

This influence of unethical advertisements may not be visible instantly, but it may appear in the nearest future and will have impact on children in the long run. However, raising awareness of this problem may help limit some of the negative effects.

One of the most harmful effects on children has the use of sex in advertisement. Many companies use nude or half-nude models, or other types of sex appeals to advertise their products. The use of these advertisings is not properly regulated. They appear on buses and television; consequently, children are exposed to them in everyday life.

Moreover, in such type of advertising, men and women usually have particular body types. Even though such images may not affect children’s consumer behavior, they remain in their memory. The problem is that those stereotypic images of men and women affect children and cause various complex of inferiority.

In many advertising campaigns, charity companies use “shock tactics.” Such visually strong pictures have proven to be an effective way to attract public attention to important social issues. However, children’s brain is very vulnerable to such images and may cause serious consequences. Thus, an ethical dilemma appears. On the one hand, advertising with the use of “shock tactics” are effective and serve a purpose of resolving different social problems. On the other hand, they have a harmful effect on children and may lead to shock, stress, or fear.

One way to deal with this ethical concern is to ban or make certain limitations not to let children become exposed to unethical advertising. Companies should act ethically by advertising for parents, not children.

Unethical advertising has a dramatic impact on consumers and society as a whole. Misleading or deceptive content encourages materialism and consumerism. The use of sex appeals in unethical ads can be offensive to women, and can harm the mentality of children exposed to them. Advertising of such products as alcohol and cigarettes raises a lot of controversy, but such advertisements are protected by the First Amendment, and they contain no dishonest information, “greenwashing,” or subliminal content. Most of the ethical disputes concerning unethical advertising include ethical dilemmas that sometimes are impossible to resolve using one particular decision. Therefore, it is required to evaluate all of the possible consequences.

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