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Ethics in Advertising


Advertising has a significant impact on people’s buying behavior, choices and trends. Advertisements are exposed to an audience with varying perceptions, values, attitudes and beliefs. This is attributable to a wide range of lifestyles, family histories and cultures. As such, people react differently. While some find certain adverts attractive, others are offended. Therefore, the optimal approach to solving ethical issues that impact advertising and respective customers depends on the advert designer’s precepts concerning the nature and content of the message that is presented to the society.


Ethical decisions in advertising are premised on various concepts. The key one among them is obligation. Companies, customers and consumers create complex and integrated relationships. Companies should behave ethically both internally and externally because of the responsibilities and obligations towards their customers (Institute for Advertising Ethics, n.d.). For instance, advertising companies have obligations to the society or community within which they operate. Additionally, employees in advertising companies have various responsibilities such as aiding the company in turning a profit, serving the suppliers and customers in good faith. Furthermore, workers have a duty to their employers, target audiences and society. In the event that there are conflicting circumstances when the needs of the company contradict those of the consumers, an ethical dilemma arises.

Accountability is a critical factor in ethical decision making processes. Ethics in advertising entails responsibility to various vested parties and stakeholders, obligations within the company and the public. The design, development and implementation of advertising ventures should incorporate the views and interests of all the stakeholders. The advertiser’s intention should not cause harm to individuals that are directly or indirectly influenced by the decision to advertise (International Charter, 2012).

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Though marketing is a crucial aspect of any business function and has significant impacts on the attainment of goals, it is increasingly susceptible to criticism. A common critical comment is the extent of violation of ethics in adverts. Advertising is essential in any competitive market and functions through sensitizing the public on issues concerning the characteristics and properties of various products on the market (Institute for Advertising Ethics, n.d.). Thus, the consumers make informed decisions about the best goods to buy. Evidently, advertising is instrumental in developing consumer preferences, choices and attitudes. As such, a large number of people depend on it to inform and educate them on the best product that fulfills their various needs; however, this aspect of marketing is prone to unethical advertising practices.

While advertising functions through persuasion, the convincing aspect of advertising is subject to ethical manipulation (Durk, 2011). A significant percentage of consumer advertisements incorporate manipulative techniques. Manipulative advertising is tailored to influence the public either consciously or subconsciously to purchase certain products. Consequently, advertising has the potential to negatively influence consumer behavior, so that they lose control of their preferences. However, consumers who do not rely on advertisements to make their purchasing decisions may not suffer from the negative impacts.

In light of this, various ethical considerations that involve advertising and its influence on consumers emerge. The ethical considerations that arise include the ability of advertising to influence the minds of the customers, potential effects of advertising on young people who are not psychologically or philosophically mature, and other ethical issues (Durk, 2011). Advertising is presented as a marketing tool that aids companies to promote their services and goods. Hence, they provide consumers with diverse choices not influencing their decision making process or manipulating their buying trends. Unethical advertising violates a consumer’s rational choice of goods or services and creates the illusion that a target product will satisfy the unconscious or conscious needs of the customer, though such fulfillment may not exist.

Meanwhile, a number of industries make products that are perceived as hazardous or harmful not only to the consumers but also to the society in general. Goods such as tobacco and alcohol products are believed to have negative impacts and consequences; therefore, advertisements of such goods are considered unethical.

Ethical Issues in Advertising Techniques

Advertising techniques have been attributed to result in varied ethical issues. For instance, some consumers believe that a number of advertisements are tailored to influence the subconscious; therefore, they manipulate their ability to make independent choices. In most cases, celebrities such as movie stars, musicians and models are involved in various advertising campaigns (Percy & Rosenbaum-Elliott, 2012). Consequently, the use of celebrities is intended to convince consumers to buy certain products on the basis of the fact that the celebrity in question uses it.

Consumers may not have the intention or need to buy a certain product; however, the presentation of a celebrity using it in advertisements lures his/her fans or followers to do the same. Hence, the depiction of a celebrity representing an opinion about or image of a product that is not his/her own but the advertiser’s is construed as unethical. In some countries such as Canada, the ethical considerations about the involvement of celebrities in advertising have raised significant concerns (Percy & Rosenbaum-Elliott, 2012). The latter have led to various products including children’s products and alcoholic beverages being prohibited from using famous people in their advertisements.

The visual aspect of an advertisement plays an instrumental role in convincing consumers to buy a product. It is evident that customers are highly attentive to an image in an advertisement in contrast to the text accompanying it. The use of images is inherently a strategic move to make the product appear better than it actually is according to its parameters both qualitative and quantitative in the consumer’s mind (Durk, 2011). For instance, women’s products including clothing and cosmetics are prone to such unethical advertising techniques.

The portrayal of female models having a perfect physique with spotless and wrinkleless faces in order to market a product is also unethical. Women who may be facing physical or health challenges might be unable to correspond to the image depicted in the advertisement. However, the advertiser may claim that the product is applicable to all women. Such advertisements leave a significant number of women suffering from inferiority complex, low self-esteem and psychological problems (Percy & Rosenbaum-Elliott, 2012). Models have defined height, body weight and size; however, an attempt to emulate them may lead to significant health problems. Since people are born with diverse characteristics, any attempt to look like a model because of an advertisement is bound to fail. This is a result of advertiser’s failure to consider human dissimilarity while creating the advertisements.

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Injurious Stereotypes

Advertising has been accused of mocking and degrading the images of various demographic groups within the population. Consequently, advertising has led to the development of stereotypes concerning various social and ethnic groups through the encouragement of negative attitudes in the society (Durk, 2011). For instance, a large group that is subjected to stereotyping in advertisements is women. The imagery of a significant number of domestic products presented to consumers involves women being portrayed as the primary users of these products. However, in reality the decision to buy them may belong to men who can also be the primary users of such products. Additionally, men are increasingly used in various advertisements such as those about voice voting, hence placing women on the sidelines.

Furthermore, advertisements do not portray women, men and children equitably. Evidently, advertisements have been using women as sexual objects to capture men’s attention. This characterization of women does not mitigate the discontent with the representation of women (Percy & Rosenbaum-Elliott, 2012). Additionally, such portrayal fails to capture or depict men in a similar way.


Though advertising is perceived to reflect reality and mirror the trends, behavior and attitudes in society, its content, targets and techniques are used unethically to manipulate people’s buying behavior. Ethics in advertising means that one should consider the preservation of social morals and preserve the consumer’s ability to make independent choices. Therefore, advertisements should be accurate and should not mislead consumers into making poor choices.