ETHICAL ISSUES IN ADVERTISEMENT
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 5
Purpose and Scope 7
Sources and Methods 7
Report organization 8
ETHICS IN BUSINESS 8
DIFFERENT ETHICAL ISSUES REGARDING ADVERTISEMENT 8-10
Advertisements targeting Vulnerable Groups 9
Advertisement regarding Culture 9
Comparative and Competitive Advertisement 10
Subliminal Advertisement 10
Deception in Advertisements 10
Advertisements of Controversial Products 10
ADVERTISEMENT TARGETING VULNERABLE GROUPS 11-16
Children’s Exposure to Advertisement 12
Effects of Food Advertisement on children 12
Celebrity Endorsement in kids’ ads 12
Advertisement of Violence to Children 13
Food advertisement 14
Promotion of negative behavior 15
Promotion of foreign culture 15
Developing Countries 16
CULTURAL ADVERTISING 16
ETHICAL ISSUES IN COMPETITIVE
AND COMPARATIVE ADVERTISEMENT 17
ETHICAL ISSUES IN SUBLIMINAL ADVERTISEMENT 17
DECEPTION IN ADVERTISEMENT 18
ADVERTISING OF CONTROVERSIAL PRODUCTS 19
Different ethical issues in Advertisement
In today’s world ethics are becoming important for every business, industry, or corporations. Business Ethics is the application of Ethical values to the business world. It applies to any and all aspects of business conduct. Business ethics is relevant to the conduct of individuals and also relevant to the conduct of the business organizations as a whole. There are some ethical issues in the advertisements which are used by the companies to advertise their products.
While advertising to vulnerable groups like children, youth and the elderly, advertisers use a number of unethical practices just to sell their products. Advertisers are promoting foreign culture in their ads which attracts the youth and advertisers are also showing negative attitudes and behaviors in their ads which are unethical. Moreover advertisers are also using unethical practices like subliminal advertisements through which they are targeting the subconscious mind of consumers and motivating them to buy products. This effects the purchasing decision of the consumers, below the level of their awareness. The products like tobacco and alcohol are controversial for usage hence in most of the countries they are banned to advertise on electronic media. However magazines and other means are used to advertise them
Advertisement affecting different target consumers
Almost all types of segments are targeted by the advertisers but children and youth are the main target, as they have more influence on the decision of the product’s purchase. The unethical practices practiced by advertisers are dangerously affecting their morality. As in most ads these target consumers are shown those norms and cultures of which they are not a part and for which they have no concern. When they find something different from their surroundings they intentionally or unintentionally start adapting it.
The disastrous effect of these advertisements is on the health of consumers who are suffering from diseases like obesity, hypertension, and many others. The use of those advertised products which are harmful for health produces a case of ethical issue in advertisements.
The necessity of time is to advertise products but it must be done ethically. Due to diversification of cultures geographically the intensity of issues are ranked differently. Hence advertisers must consider the affect caused by their practices on the moral, culture, health, and environment of consumers and they should try to maintain a balance of vision and ethicality promoted in their ads.
Advertising takes place in a market environment where consumer needs, business interests and government regulations meet. Advertising is a powerful force and plays a critical social role. It also has high visibility, and popularity. For these reasons, advertising is the subject of criticism and controversy.
Advertising is accused of encouraging materialism and consumption, of stereotyping, of influencing people to purchase products for which they have no need, of taking advantage of children, and even of manipulating their behavior. Advertisements psychologically convince the consumers to purchase the product while the companies exaggerate the features of their products or services they offer. Most of the advertisements deal with deception or fraud in presenting their messages to consumers
The purpose of this study is to determine the ethicality of disguised and obtrusive advertising, to determine if the use of deception in ads, cultural stereotyping, sexual stereotyping and emotional exploitation factors influence the average consumer and also to identify which kind of strategies and practices the national and multinational corporations are using these days to persuade consumers. Are such kinds of activities ethical or not?
In preparing this report, the secondary research is conducted through journal articles, books, and e-books. Besides secondary research, some commonly observed examples are also quoted to convey the practical issues on cultural ethics which are violated by the advertising firms. The collected data is then compiled in such a way as to deliver the true picture of ethical issues regarding advertisement.
The focus of report will be on few areas of advertisement like targeting kids and youth, promoting unethical practices, violating cultural traditions and religious teachings, subliminal advertisement and competitive/ comparative advertisement.
This report reveals the impact of advertisement and its negative effects on the society. The 2+2 approach is used to integrate all logical arguments on the ethical issues of advertisement and then some useful recommendations are included in the closing part of the report
Ethics in business
Business ethics can be viewed as the principles and standards that guide behavior in the world of business. Especially in today’s society, understanding and practicing the concepts of ethics is a key factor that many organizations stress among employees. In order for organizations to survive in such a competitive and changing environment, managers must develop strong ethical standards that can be implemented throughout the company. In fact, many companies feel that good business ethics results in good business
DIFFERENT ETHICAL ISSUES REGARDING ADVERTISEMENT
Much of the controversy over advertising stems from the ways many companies use it as a selling tool and from its impact on society’s tastes, values, and lifestyles. In the ads where sexual stereotyping is used, there is a relationship between the recall of the ad and the consumer’s subsequent purchasing decision. Similar relationships are also evident in ads that use cultural stereotyping and emotional exploitation. Consumers also tend to remember the ad and get motivated to purchase products/services when they feel that the information in the ad is truthful and not deceptive.
The seven most important ethical issues in advertisements are as follows:
- Advertisements targeting Vulnerable Groups
- Cultural issues in advertisements
- Comparative/competitive advertisements
- Subliminal advertisements
- Use of deception in advertisements
- Advertisements of Controversial Products
Advertisements targeting Vulnerable Groups
Companies are targeting children in their advertisements irrespective of the negative impact and affect on their personality. While advertising several elements regarding ethics are not considered, and in this report we will focus on few of those issues.
Adults are also targeted by the companies. Later in this report it will be discussed how companies build perceptions and image of different cultures in minds of young generation. How the youth is being affected by the companies’ unethical practices?
Advertisement regarding Culture
The importance of recognizing human differences such as age, gender, and ethnicity do exist and can significantly impact a practitioner’s work. Advertisers are manipulating the cultural ethnicity and are trying to build their own culture. However their practice is considerably raising the cultural issues in different and diversified geographical areas around the globe.
Comparative and Competitive Advertisement
Comparative advertising is an advertisement in which a particular product, or service, specifically mentions a competitor by name for the express purpose of showing why the competitor is inferior to the product naming it, where as Competitive advertisement points out features of a brand which may not be available in other brands, but does not directly name a competitor
A subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another medium, designed to pass below the normal limits of the human mind’s perception. The use of subliminal messages in advertisement is called subliminal advertisement.
Deception in Advertisements
The miss-presentation or omission of the product’s features in the ads is a routine practice of companies to deceive consumers. Misleading messages or images are just lies and unfair. The aim of this type of advertisements is just to deceive the consumer. Ethics have some power in deceptive and misleading advertising. Later in this report various ways of deception will be discussed to clarify the unethical practices.
Advertisements of Controversial Products
The advertisements of controversial products were once not acceptable but now marketers are showing the advertisement of these products frequently because of which consumers are getting immune to the advertisements of such products. Later in this report we will discuss what kind of unethical practices marketers are using in the advertisements of such products.
ADVERTISEMENT TARGETING VULNERABLE GROUPS
Companies design the advertisement of their products in such a way that even if a person has no need for the product will buy it. Companies take “Persuasive advantage” of vulnerable groups such as Children, the elderly, and people in developing countries etc. to sell their products.
Ads for kids serve as training for consumer culture; hence, their role in culture formation and socialization should not be underestimated. The impact of advertisement on their behaviors and attitudes is highly affective. As children are the emerging seeds of any civilization hence it should be seriously considered that they are exposed to what kind of ethics. Things which they learn in their early stages of life are reflected in their later life stage. Following topics will further elaborate this concept.
Children’s Exposure to Advertisement
Commercials are highly effective in presenting the formal features of products, to attract children’s attention, such as unique sound effects and auditory changes, rapidly moving images, and audiovisual gimmicks and special effects. The most common persuasive strategy employed in advertising to children is to associate the product with fun and happiness, rather than to provide any factual product-related information. For example, a commercial featuring Ronald McDonald dancing, singing, and smiling in McDonald’s restaurants without any mention of the actual food products nutrition available, reflects a fun/happiness theme.
Effects of Food Advertisement on children
It is evident from the available sources that children are highly influenced by the food advertisement and that they are highly important for the marketers to be targeted.
Unhealthy Eating Habits
It is found that kids are attracted by entertaining products that’s why companies are showing them the enjoyable advertisements instead of focusing on the nutrition of the products. As done by McDonald which shows entertaining toys provided with the package of burger, in this way, children start buying burgers without considering the amount of calories and other nutritious in those eatables. This practice has lead to the obesity of children specifically in United States of America. The children are shown those eatables which are unhealthy for them but still they enjoy purchasing them and they force their parents to make those eatables available for them.
Cause of Obesity
Currently 15% of US youth are overweight, a prevalence nearly twice as high in children and three times as high in adolescents compared to 1980 prevalence rates. Almost two-thirds (60%) of overweight children have at least one cardiovascular risk factor (e.g., hypertension, hyperlipidemia) and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus is increasing in youth.
Celebrity Endorsement in kids’ ads
Kids are targeted through the celebrity endorsers for making their purchasing
decision more influential and strong. It becomes unethical when certain problems arise as follows:
Parent- child conflict
Some ads are so influential that they stick to the kids’ mind and then they influence their parents to buy it. The problem arises when parents refuse to purchase the toy or any kids’ product and they consistently insist to buy it.
Through certain surveys it is found that kids are more influential in their decision than adults. In one study, Atkin (1975) found that more than half of children reported arguing or becoming angry when a toy request was denied; in another (Atkin, 1978), he observed child disappointment and anger in response to the majority of parent refusals for cereal requests at the supermarket. Other studies confirm these patterns (Goldberg & Gorn, 1978; Sheikh & Moleski, 1977).
Materialism can be defined as the view that products and their acquisition are the basis for determining one’s personal worth. Material possessions become the source of judgment by others as well as the source of one’s own self-evaluation.
It is interesting to observe that degree of advertising exposure correlates positively with children’s acceptance of materialism.
Adler et al. (1980) found stronger materialistic values among fourth to seventh graders who were heavy television viewers than among their lighter-viewing classmates. Similarly, others have reported that 6th through 12th graders’ viewing of advertising was positively related to materialistic values (Greenberg & Brand, 1993; Moschis & Moore, 1982).
Advertisement of Violence to Children
The research conducted on the media exposure to children found that children have high adaptability and acceptability towards the violence, aggression hostility and other antisocial behaviors.
Through several researches it is concluded that boys are more inclined towards aggressiveness, violence, and adventures than are girls, whereas girls’ inclination is towards innocence, softness, and care. In this way the genders are polarized in their behaviors in very early stages.
As everybody knows that a large part of consumers are consisting of youth. So business advertisers are making their ads in such a way that are mostly targeting youth. But the most of the ads are unethical.
There are many issues regarding unethical advertisement to youth.
- Food Advertisements
- Promotion of negative behavior
- Promotion of foreign culture
We will discuss these issues one by one
In last few years, the food and beverage industry has viewed adolescents as a major market force. As a result, adolescents are now becoming the target of specialized food marketing and advertising companies. Marketers are taking interest in youth as a consumer because of their purchasing power and as future consumers. Food advertising campaigns have presented information to the public that has been warped to create a false image of apparently healthy products. Restaurants such as KFC, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut have created campaigns to promote eating more food, and providing the unhealthy food for less money. We find that to a large extent these restaurants’ healthy menus are not at all fit for a healthy lifestyle. Another issue regarding fast food is there is no description of nutrition of the food in the ads or bill boards. Such kind of products contains huge quantity of fat which is unhealthy for the consumers (youth).
Another issue regarding food advertisement is that, advertisers are showing aggression in their ads which is directly targeting youth. For example in the ads of Dew, advertisers are showing aggressive attitude of boys in a way that after drinking dew they can do unrealistic things. These kind of ads are not ethical as adolescent are trying to practice it after watching the ads.
Promotion of negative behavior
Advertisements not only educate consumers regarding the usage, consumption and disposal of the products or services rather they also educate consumers to build their attitudes and behaviors. Consumers tend to learn different behavioral aspects from advertisements and these behavioral aspects change the lifestyles of consumers. For example in one ad of fresh up bubble a young boy comes while having cigarette, as soon as he reaches the front door of his house he throws the cigarette and starts chewing fresh up bubble. In this ad they show that with the help of fresh up bubble boy easily deceives his mother. Such type of behavioral learning is unethical and companies should not portray these kinds of utilities of their products
Promotion of foreign culture
Marketers portray the culture of the society in which they are selling their products or services through different marketing tools. Now days, advertisers are promoting foreign culture in the ads of different products of companies. For example telecommunication companies are promoting different activities which belong to foreign culture. We can see in the ads of telenor that they are showing different dancing activities and free mixing of boys and girls. These kinds of activities promote foreign culture in the minds of youth
Companies who are looking to expand their business beyond current markets sometimes see opportunities in developing countries with fewer trade and product restrictions. Tobacco companies come under criticism for using advertisements in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America that are banned in the United States and Western Europe. For example Pharmaceutical companies have been accused of advertising their products in developing countries which are banned in the United States for advertisement. Companies adopt these kinds of unethical practices to get benefit from the fewer trade and product restrictions in developing countries.
Culture is defined as “The sum total of learned beliefs, values, and customs that serve to direct the consumer behavior of members of a particular society.” Culture plays an important part in shaping the behavior of the consumers. The culture of a particular region consists of values and norms which are developed and followed within the society. These days the marketers are trying to persuade consumers by showing attractive attributes of foreign cultures in their ads. They don’t take care of the values of a particular region regarding advertisements.
In Pakistan many national and multinational companies are violating the norm and values followed by the society. Multinational companies are actually trying to put foreign culture in our society. They are trying to narrow down the difference of men and women. The youth and kids are very adaptable to the ads in which foreign culture is shown. Many multinational companies are using these practices to promote their brands. For example Zong telecom is an international brand and they are directly targeting the kids in their new ads. They are showing that boys want a special friend in their life and that friend should be a girl. All these ads are actually portraying different kinds of cultural aspects which are unacceptable in our culture.
ETHICAL ISSUES IN COMPETITIVE AND COMPARATIVE ADVERTISEMENT
The most common strategies, which companies use to advertise its products, include competitive and comparative advertising techniques. By using these strategies companies get into unethical and unfair competition. For example, we see in the ads of washing powers that a company who is advertising its product compares it with some other washing power without disclosing the brand name of the other product, but it is very clear from the use of their language and pictorial presentation of the other product that they are trying to compare their product with a well known brand. Brite Total is a very famous brand in washing powers. They use comparative strategy in advertising their product. In their advertisement, they have shown the benefits of their product but at the end of their ad a man comes and says, “Let me put the Wheel out of the house.” In this ad, they have specifically targeted their main competitor “Wheel washing powder” which is unethical. This strategy is also adopted by many other companies as well like Ufone telecom, Arial washing powder etc. In advertisements it is forbidden to use the competitors product, service, brand name, brand logo, symbol etc. This behavior is called unfair competition and is protected with competition laws in every country. But a lot of company use unfair competition to show itself or its product strong and better than the competitors.
ETHICAL ISSUES IN SUBLIMINAL ADVERTISEMENT
Messages are generally seen and heard consciously but consumers also get motivated by stimuli below their level of conscious awareness. These kinds of messages are called subliminal. A subliminal message is conveyed in such a manner that a person who is exposed to such a message is not consciously aware of receiving that message. This means that the symbols shown in the message are too brief or too faint for the consumers to clearly recognize them or they are below the threshold of conscious awareness of the consumers. Subliminal advertisement was first used by Coke in the drive-in-movie theater. They flashed the words “Eat Popcorn & Drink Coke” on the screen during the movie, it resulted in 58% increase in the sales of Popcorn, and 18% increase in the sales of Coke.
Research shows that subliminal stimuli can cause some types of minor reactions, such as a “like-dislike” response. However, research hasn’t proven whether a subliminal message is capable of affecting the public’s buying behavior. In many books, it has been declared that marketers use subliminal advertisement techniques in their ads to persuade consumers to buy their advertised brands. There are many arguments in the favor of subliminal advertisement as well but the fact is that playing with the unconscious receptor cells of consumer’s mind is unethical which is why the practice of subliminal advertisement is banned in many countries.
DECEPTION IN ADVERTISEMENT
It is not only illegal to lie about the features of the products in advertisement rather it is unethical as well. Here lying about the features of the products simply means deception. The difficulty regarding this issue is in determining what is deceptive and what is not deceptive. For example if a company which manufactures a fairness cream claims in its ad to make the skin of the consumer fair in 15 days and its product fails to do so then this advertisement can be called as deceptive. A study was conducted by Binwari Mittal which revealed that consumers are of the view that less than one-quarter of the TV commercials are honest and believable.
Untruthful or fraudulent advertisements are practiced more at the local level and in specific areas such as telemarketing and other forms of direct marketing. Yet there are many examples of large corporations which are accused of misleading consumers with their ads and promotion activities. The most common example in this regard is the ads or billboards shown by the Telecommunication companies. We see many billboards across the road that does not give full information about the product to the consumers to allow them to make an informed choice. It is our common observation that advertisers usually present only information that is favorable to their position and do not always tell consumers the whole truth about a product or service.
ADVERTISING OF CONTROVERSIAL PRODUCTS
Research has shown that consumers are getting immune to the advertisements and products which were unacceptable in their culture. Over time, products that were once considered not suitable to advertise, such as those related to feminine hygiene, foot problems, and lingerie have become acceptable. There are still some advertisements of products that have not been accepted by the majority of consumers.
Tobacco is one of the products whose ads are controversial. For example in one ad of cigarette they show that a group of friends has gone to the hills for vacations. They portrayed that even strong and healthy people can have a cigarette and enjoy the best of their health which is not true in reality. Medical research has shown that the use of cigarette can be the cause of dangerous diseases like cancer as well as other illness. Thus advertisement of controversial products is unethical and companies should be charged with penalties if they advertise these kinds of products.
The advertisement ethics is a controversial and debatable issue, as it is directly related to the consumers’ norms, values, traditions, and life style. Some practices which are applicable and acceptable in one culture might be controversial and unacceptable in the other one. Hence rules for advertisement ethics are not hard and fast; there is flexibility in its acceptance and rejection. The intensity of these issues has increased with the increase in globalization of some cultures.
Advertisers are using unethical means to attract consumers specifically children and youth. Children are influenced through exposure of entertaining features of products. The balance of nutrients is not considered; consequently different diseases are diagnosed in the consumers. The unethical practice of deceiving people is very common among the advertisers.
Advertisement is an important source for the marketers to advertise their products hence it is not possible for them to totally quit this source for vanishing the ethical issues. However some steps can be taken to resolve this crucial issue.
Advertisers should keep the following points in their mind while advertising the products of companies:
1) They should only promote the culture of the society in which they are advertising their products.
2) They should give complete information about their products so that consumers can make informed choice.
3) They should not deceive about the features of their products or services.
4) They should not teach negative attitudes and behavior in their ads, especially the ones which are targeting youth.
5) Subliminal advertisement tools should not be used to advertise the products of well known brands.
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