Ethics & Lagality
Advertising is regularly the topic of public debate and controversy for its alleged role in influencing cultural life in negative ways by, say, promoting and encouraging over eating; body dismorphia; cigarette and alcohol consumption; bad manners, and so on. Examples of some ethical issues raised by marketing and advertising include; Overselling, Exploitation of vulnerable groups, Deception, Intruding on privacy, Promoting socially or personally harmful values or behaviors.
The following paper will take into account ethical and legal considerations on several issues. The paper will focus on the ad and not the product itself (i.e., not “drinking is bad and shouldn’t be advertised,” but “ads promoting alcohol should not target minors . . .”). As such the essay will comment on the target, placement, content, and so forth.
Two major theories exist which must be considered when answering any ethical dilemma. Consequentialism is the doctrine that the ethical status of acts (such as advertisements) should be judged by their consequences. The ethical status of ads should be balanced against the good they do in creating jobs, wealth and competition, an ad which is judged unethical in itself because of its content could be judged ethically good because of the benefits it creates in terms of jobs and wealth. Deontology posits that acts should be judged as ethical or unethical in themselves, regardless of their consequences. So, for example, if an ad is offensive it is judged unethical even if it is designed to do good, such as the add which features an attractive female in a suggestive position which is actually promoting organ donation. The problem for deontological judgments in a pluralist society is that they are subjective and depend on the moral standards of very different religious or cultural traditions, so a consensus cannot easily be reached on what is ethically appropriate content for ads.
Consensus may be achievable in certain social contexts, but ethics of who can be targeted and in what manner is constantly changing. The argument as to wheater targeting is a helpful process is still raging. Presenting highly profiled consumers is surely what good marketing is all about. The way in which brands are communicated and whether ads create needs instead of fulfilling wants is up for scrutiny. Communications to vulnerable groups such as children has been seen as exploitative. Largely due to the fact that brand loyalty begins at an early age, and group peer pressure can be manipulated at an early age. Advertising at key periods such as Christmas and the use of advertising in areas without parental supervision such as play station games are key questionable areas.
The marketing of FAB as an introduction to “adult drinking” is another area which shows un ethical marketing. Alcohol is a rite of passage, and as with many products socialization is tied with consumption. Heineken case study shows how one brand has responded in an ethical way towards advertising their brand.
The relative lack of control of internet communications raise questions over privacy invasion, data protection and targeting of vulnerable groups. As we have seen formation of blogs is increasing and have impacts on consumer opinion in rating products, which have been subject to planted bloggers being passed off as legitimate unbiased customers.