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Ethics in Advertising

Armeen Qayoom 100110

Some quotes to start us off:

Advertising is the lubricant of the free-enterprise system (Kelmenson in McKenna, 1983, p11)

Advertising is essential to the look and feel of modern societiesIn their images and phrases, these advertisements give public form to changing social desires, moods and ideals: they are the official art or modern capitalist society (Williams, in Sinclair, 1997, p267)
Salesmanship, advertising, the telephoneare all really just ways of mediating human interactionthese and most other mediahave turned into avenues of behaviour and thought controlThe art of manipulation has becomeprevalentWe are living through end-stage propaganda, a culture which has been subjected to so muchprogramming that it exhibits pathological symptoms (Rushkoff, 1999, pp25-26) Advertising is legalised lying (Wells in Jackman, 1982, p2)

Some ad text groundwork:

Id like us all to recognise that:

ads are texts just like novels or films (but texts that have promotional intent) ads are public texts that circulate freely (but they have preferred readings, and that preference is commercial) as a first principal all these texts in circulation in a free society should be subject to the ethical scrutiny of its citizens

Some ad text groundwork:

Id like us to also consider the ethics of advertising in three ranges, So we might consider:

Micro range. This deals with the everyday issues of problematic advertisements that interact with the broad sweep of changing individual moral norms Mid range. Here we enter the area that Elspeth Probyn and Catherine Lumby cover in this weeks reading. They call it boundary blurring and it has to do with our increasing inability to distinguish between ads and non ads in media content Macro. This final area deals with the biggest issues, the notion of a mental landscape, our imagination effectively, completely colonised, at both an individual and a collective level by promotional rhetoric

Some ethical framework revision

1) Teleological philosophies determine the moral worth of a behaviour by its consequences or end point. Two common teleological theories are egoism, in which individuals focus only on the consequences to themselves when evaluating an ethical situation, and utilitarianism, where the consequences of an ethical situation to the whole of society are more important than the consequences to an individual (the good of the many outweighs the good of the one) 2) Aretaic or virtue philosophies, where it is the actor that is important, not necessarily the outcome. In virtue ethics a good person has personal qualities such as courage, wisdom, loyalty and fairness. These virtues should be used in balance between extremes of possible conduct (This is the golden mean)

Some ethical framework revision

3) Deontological philosophies on the other hand emphasises the act. Duty ethics posit an ethics not based on fuzzy ideas of individual virtue, but on the idea that some things are universally right or wrong and that these laws should compel us to do the right thing because it becomes our duty to do so. Kant is at the extreme end of Duty ethics, Ross pluralistic theory of value is less so because it allows multiple duties 4) Relativist philosophies would have us believe that no universal ethical rules can exist that apply to everyone in every situation because all beliefs are culturally generated - not timeless and handed to us from above

Some of the most persistent micro & midrange criticisms of advertising ethics include:

That it takes advantage of innocent and defenceless children - either by utilising the pester power effect to control purchases through their parents, or by marketing goods and services to children considered by many to be to young to either understand the persuasive intent of the ad or too young to actually need the good or service (i.e. the selling of cosmetics or high end lingerie to young girls)

That it uses sex to sell, more specifically that it reduces women (and increasingly men) to sex objects
That it uses shock (cruelty, violence, disgust, pornography etc etc) to sell = Benetton. i.e. it trivialises very serious aspects of the human condition

Some of the most persistent micro & midrange criticisms of advertising include:

That it promotes unhealthy and unrealistic body image expectations in young women and young men, and the idea that the solution to these problems can be found in the marketplace That it sells and glamorises harmful (but legal) substances like alcohol, tobacco, and certain lifestyle drugs - and encourages/normalises unhealthy eating habits That it is reactive, rather than proactive, in its depiction of racial/ethnic/religious/gender and age stereotypes. For instance - how many Aboriginal faces or aged people are there in Australian advertising?

Some of the most persistent micro & midrange criticisms of advertising include:

That it commodifies aspects of life that should be part of a persons basic human rights (i.e. the right to medical treatment gets replaced by luxury private health cover)

That, particularly in the age of the internet and the mobile phone, it invades peoples privacy by collecting data about them without their knowledge or express consent
That in the age of convergence, advertisers are increasingly hiding their persuasive message behind a mask of journalism or celebrity (i.e. Advertorials, cash for comment), or entertainment (magalogs, infomercials, product placement), or just mediums that are considered to be part of the realm of everyday speech (blog-ads)

Some of the most persistent criticisms of the ad industry as a whole include:

That it is designed to be deceptive, and moreover, that it less and less serves to inform us believably about logical basic product information such as price, place and performance (is fat free really fat free?), and inserts emotionality - dreams, hopes, fears in their place (be what you want to be) That it dumbs down civil discourse by transforming complex issues (like politics and the environmental crisis) into celebrity contests and greenwash respectively That it sets up a regime of success, luxury and desire that poor people can see but never attain

Some of the most persistent criticisms of the ad industry as a whole include:

That it is not subject to enough government regulation and that the industrys attempt to self regulate is a selfcontradictory joke That it disguises human suffering and inequality behind its brilliant disguise (i.e. exploitation of coffee workers) That the political/economic thrust of the industry is to dismantle public limits to unregulated promotionality (by lobbying to weaken legislative restrictions on ads) and replace them with individual/ familial self regulation (i.e. to discipline the parent into feeling that they alone are responsible for supervising their childs ad exposure and that if they fail to do that they are bad parents)

At a simple level of deception, Davis (1994, p381) lists four types of practises that all promotional texts could be accused of to some extent:

Puffery - use of hyperbole or unbelievable exaggeration Use of generalisations about products where specific details are required, leading to false expectations about utility Use of qualifiers and vague quantifiers Use of small or fleeting fine print, or ads that dont include crucial information

And I will add another, overriding ethical objection:

Advertising too often doesnt respect people as fully developed individuals and citizens with goals beyond the immediate purchase

One final observation:

In a digital, interactive world of:

viral messages spread voluntarily by users, of micro-targeted SMS campaigns, of multiple product placements in reality TV shows that are themselves ads for the contestants, and where individuals can increasingly advertise themselves online via blogs

What is persuasion, what is deception, what is truth, and how do we hold people to it???
Remember - advertising industry workers are customers too! Dilemmas faced by advertising professionals potentially impact on their own children!

Example case study issues

Example case study issues

Example case study issues

And now for something completely different:

http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/watch/default.h tm?program=mediawatch&pres=20081013_2120& story=4

Micro case study 1 - Shock and fear in advertising Micro case study 2 - Advertising to children

Micro case study 3 - Greenwash Mid-macro case study 1 - can advertising disguise exploitation?

Mid-macro case study 2 - Boundary blurring

A Micro-mid Conclusion:

How do we proceed from here at the practical level of individual ad texts and the industries that create, sell and are funded by them? Patterson and Wilkins mention Baker and Martinsons TARES test, which has become an influential tool in the study of advertising ethics In the tutes it would be useful to look at this test and evaluate its usefulness, perhaps test it against some real world ads, and consider whether adherence to this test is a realistic expectation in the harsh light of coalface industry

And a Macro Question:

At the macro level the question is whether marketers should have access to every corner of the media and every corner of our creative brain space - is the world really, as Douglas Rushkoff has stated, now just made of marketing?

There is an increasingly desperate need to preserve a space for other forms of thinking, other shades of feeling and other ways of being in the world (p148) so conditioned are we to expect advertising and almost no other form of address in our public spaces that we naturally assume that a printed, mass produced image must be there to sell us something (Poyner, R, p180)


Are there absolute standards of right and wrong that individuals, advertising industry professionals and societies should adhere to? Does the pleasure produced by adverts outweigh the damage they cause? Or is it all a relativist free for all where the viewer/buyer beware holds true Where do virtue ethics notions like obligation, responsibility, accountability and excellence of character come into this?


Are there special interest groups of especially vulnerable people out there that deserve ethical (and legal) protection form this marketing free for all? If so, who are they and why?


Does self regulation by advertising peak bodies (as seen in the AFA and AANA Codes of Ethics, which I have put up on the CI&E website) work?
Can we trust for profit organisations that answer to shareholders first to behave responsibly?

What kind of legislation would you pass to legally oversee ad standards, or would you take a hands off approach and let the industry self regulate?


Is the ethical crux of a potentially controversial admaking decision today especially in a digital, interactive, boundary blurring world where it is increasingly hard to tell what is and isnt an ad - seated with the actor, the act, the outcome, the rules, or is it just all relative? Is any publicity good publicity? Have YOU ever been shocked or disgusted or saddened by an ad enough to want it changed, restricted or banned? What was the ad?


Whereas professional persuasion is a means to an immediate and instrumental end (such as increased sales or enhanced corporate image), ethical persuasion must rest on or serve a deeper, morally based final (or relative last) end. Among the moral final ends of journalism, for example, are truth and freedom There is a very real danger that advertisers and public relations practitioners will play an increasingly dysfunctional role in the communications process if means continue to be confused with ends in professional persuasive communications. (Baker & Martinson, 2001)

Ethical Questions Derived from the 5 point TARES test (adapted from Lieber 2003)

TRUTHFULNESS (of the message)

1. The accuracy of the content 2. Whether the communicators own honesty and integrity may be questioned as a result of this communication decision 3. Whether the communicator would feel deceived if this communication was related to him/her in the same context.

AUTHENTICITY (of the persuader)

1. That the communicator would personally advocate the view he/she is presenting 2. People receiving the information will benefit from it 3. That the communicator would openly assume personal responsibility for the communication.

RESPECT (for the persuadee)

1. That the target audience is viewed by the communicator with respect 2. Self-interest is being promoted at the expense of those being persuaded.

EQUITY (of the appeal)

1. Whether the target audience was unfairly selected due to their vulnerability to the content 2. The context of the communication is fair 3. The target audience can completely understand the information being presented to them.

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (for the common good)

1. The view being advocated might cause harm to individuals or society 2. That the content of the communication promoted the principles the communicator personally believes in 3. Certain groups might be unfairly stereotyped by this communication