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Laura Tersine Unethical Advertising 1

Laura Tersine
06 November 2011
Professor James Lenze
Unethical Advertising in the Media
Unethical advertising is a serious issue in todays society; companies are exploiting everything
from accepted social norms, to moral beliefs, to even children in an attempt to sell the products or ideas
they are pushing. The fundamental goal of advertising is to stimulate desires and mislead consumers by
influencing the values they hold, however the tactics used are often forceful or offensive and the
message they attempt to send is often biased to the beliefs and ends of the person or company who is
funding the advertisement. This paper will present information regarding unethical advertising by
discussing what makes unethical advertising unethical, the effects of unethical advertising on the
consumer, and the evolution and growth of unethical advertising. Along with these topics will be
examples that demonstrate the effects of unethical advertising, and research based statistics and data
that show the effects of unethical advertising.
What makes Unethical Advertising Unethical?
At this point in the paper it is important to note that not all advertising is inherently
unethical, although it is true that the nature of advertising is to sway the beliefs of the consumer, it
is possible to do so without breaking ethical boundaries. What makes unethical advertising,
unethical is the exploitation of moral and cultural values in order to make consumers find value is
what is being advertised. Essentially advertising is met to change the way a person thinks so that
their views and ideals shift to coincide with the group that is doing the advertising. This type of
advertising is dangerous because it uses peoples own thoughts and beliefs against them in order to
support a cause (A Study of Perceptions in Society Regarding Unethical Practices, 2010). A simple
example of this would be a television commercial that tries to get consumers to donate money to an
animal shelter by showing scenes or pictures of hurt and abused animals. This type of
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advertisement is met to tap into the viewers sense of empathy so that they are more inclined to
donate money to the cause. Although this is an effective way to advertise, is it ethical to exploit
consumers by tapping into their feelings of empathy for the animals on the television screen in
order to make them feel obligated to donate?
Beyond exploiting moral values, advertisers also exploit the basic human desire to belong to
a group in order to sell their product. The most basic way of accomplishing this is brand
advertising. Brand advertising or brand association creates an implied social value related to a
name brand product. As stated by a Study of Perceptions in Society Regarding Unethical
Practices, Advertising has a major impact on how people and society understands life and the
world and themselves. (A Study of Perceptions in Society Regarding Unethical Practices, 2010).
When this understanding is manipulated through brand association the advertiser is able to
manipulate the consumer and his/her values with ease. The essential idea behind brand
association is certain ideas, groups, or products have a socially recognized value and therefore are
more desirable than other products. This is unethical because the value being used to manipulate
consumers in not intrinsic to the idea, group or product, but is created by the company that is
advertising the product, manipulating consumers into thinking that a product must be more
desirable because a fabricated social consensus says that it is.
What makes this even more difficult is that the world is always changing and advertising
companies are finding it difficult to accurately understand consumers backgrounds. According to
E.P Bishop who was one of the first publishers of advertising ethics, he wrote about, several moral
indictments involving advertising. However, it is up to the individual person, to determine what is
or is not ethical and these views greatly affect the ability of advertising to sway them to or away
from a specific cause or way of thinking. (A Study of Perceptions in Society Regarding Unethical
Practices, 2010).
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Effects of Unethical advertising on the Consumer
Advertising has a natural link to the consumer, it is designs and implemented to cause the
consumer to act based on the ideals put forth through the advertisement. This premise presumes
that the consumer being targeted has the cognitive and social faculties to analyze and interpret the
message being sent by the advertisement. Ethics begin to play a role when the consumer does not
have these abilities to implement in their decision making process, children for example are
extremely susceptible to advertising because of these very reasons and therefore advertising
targeting children can be seen as unethical.
Children compared to adults are heavily influenced advertisements, and are more
susceptible to them. Advertisers spend considerable amounts of money on, children advertising for
instance; in 2005 $2.1 billion dollars were spent on childrens programming. With so much money
being spent on children many companies hire assistances to implant there brands into media that is
geared toward children. It is worth wondering what makes children more susceptible to
advertising and one possibility is that this susceptibility comes from their inability to understand
the difference between ads and the program (Hudson, Hudson, & Peloza, 2008). A point that
supports this is that research has found that younger children, with less developed critical faculties,
were more persuaded by advertising than older children. (Ambler, 2008) Because children are
more vulnerable to advertising they are often targeted more aggressively by advertising companies.
According to the Hudson, and Hudson, and Peloza study, which was a study that tested the
effectiveness of advertising on children based on their preferences after watching a controlled
series of advertisements and programs against a control group that was not exposed, that
advertising greatly affected the choices that the children made, even on young children that might
have been thought too young to be affected. When we consider these results its no wonder that
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advertisers spent $2.1 billion on childrens programming in 2005, just in the United States and that
the amount spent annually is on the steady rise (Hudson, Hudson, & Peloza, 2008).
With so much money being spent on advertising toward children, Marketers like
McDonalds, hire agencies to implant there brands within song lyrics and music videos (Hudson,
Hudson, & Peloza, 2008). This brings up ethical issues as the consumer and, for advertising
agencies as well. Knowing that children are more vulnerable to advertising, is it moral sound to
exploit this vulnerability in the hope of selling an idea or product. There has been a lot of research
done on ethical issues related to children. Studies have shown that many consumers believe that
parents should decide what their children should see on TV. (Hudson, Hudson, & Peloza, 2008).
The major problem with advertising implemented towards children is that they are not able
to understand the true intent of advertisements, what they see they believe to be true. Children
have difficulty distinguishing what is true and false from advertising (Hudson, Hudson, & Peloza,
2008). With children having these issues many consumers believe that parents should decide what
their children should see on TV. There have been increasing efforts to protect the public,
specifically children, by regulating the content and the reach of advertising. Some examples have
been the ban on TV tobacco advertising imposed in many countries and a total and complete ban on
advertising to children under twelve; however it is important to note, that this was imposed only by
the Swedish government. Spear heading these efforts are parents who are concerned about the
impact of advertising on their children (Hudson, Hudson, & Peloza, 2008).
The Evolution and Growth of Unethical Advertising
Advertising has always existed in one form or another, whether the form is political in
nature or an attempt to get the consumer to buy or believe something, advertising is an effective
tool that has been around long enough to be honed into an effective device for capturing and
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manipulating those who are exposed to it. Although advertising has existed in one form or another
for almost as long as the human race, the ethical dilemmas that this paper deals with mostly found
their roots in the not so distant past. It seems that advertising took the hard turn towards unethical.
The reasons for this change in the way advertisers approached their consumers are three fold; first
and foremost is the advent of, large scale print advertising. Such as during presidential campaigns
many, candidates would insult each other and their policies through the use of print media. Another
form of affordable advertising that started around the onset of the Second World War. Is broadcast
communication or radio broadcasts. Because people could now be tuned in to radio broadcasts in
large numbers, advertisers found themselves able to send their messages to larger groups than ever
before, this being the case advertisers had to create ways to make the most out of their time with
their consumer bases, the question was essentially, what can be done to make consumers believe
what we are selling as quickly and efficiently as possible. The answer to this was playing to the
morals and values of the people at the time, in the United States this came in the form of
advertisements for things such as war bonds, which advertised messages like, buy more war bonds
so the soldiers can come home sooner, playing on peoples desire for their loved ones to come
home and for a quick end to the war.
With the war causing everyone emotional and financial stress many families scrimped every
penny, and put a lot of their time and money towards the war effort, and decided to live without
many of the luxuries. When the war ended 1945 many soldiers returned home, and decided to
spend whatever money was set aside during the war, on luxuries like new washers and
refrigerators. With the soldiers and their families spending money, this pushed many advertisers to,
market to the soldiers their wives and mostly their children. This new form of advertising, and the
mindset of many people is that everyone needs to have the new and latest thing, led our country
and many other counties down a dangerous and slippery sloop known as consumerism, this can
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lead to destructive patterns of consumption (Yesodha, D. N., Kanchana, V. S., & Sebastin, N. (2010).
Which begs the question is this type of advertising ethical.
Another sure sign that unethical advertising is growing and growing very quickly is the
amount of money that is invested into creating advertisements. According to PQ media, a group
that evaluates market statistics and trends, the base investment in advertising over the market has
increased from $190 million in 1974 to $3.36 billion in 2006 and in 2007 it rose to $4.38 billion
(Lee, 2011). Obviously the remarkable increase in investment shows that advertising is a tactic that
works and that is growing at an expedient rate, and if advertising on the whole is growing then it is
reasonable to assume that there is a higher possibility for unethical advertising to prosper as well.
Considering that more and more money is being invested into advertising and that
advertisers are using tactics which continue to push the limit between ethical and unethical,
unethical advertising has the potential to become an even more serious problem.
According to research, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reasons for this surge in growth
in unethical advertising is the amount of technology that consumers surround themselves with, on
a daily basis (Minette E. Drumwright and Patrick E. Murphy. (2009).Technology such as,
smartphones, laptops, tablets, televisions, radios, and all the other different types of technology,
have given advertisers countless avenues, to exert there influence onto the consumer. A plain
example of this is a survey performed by Jay Walker Smith, the President of the Marketing Firm
Yankelovich, which said weve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970s
to around 5,000 a day today (Johnson, 2009). This exposure has led to an increase in consumerism
and, a drive from advertisers to create advertisements, which are ever more cunning, in an attempt
to gain consumers, who have become numb to basic advertising ploys. The problem with this is that
advertisers are going to extremes to get their message out to consumers and sometimes these
extremes lead them into situations where ethics may be tossed aside in order to achieve their goals.
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Closing Paragraph
Based on the information that is presented in this paper, and based on research it is clear
that unethical advertising has the potential to play a large rule, in influencing, the actions of
consumers, and how they market to them.
Advertising can be stylish and can conform to high moral standards; it also can be morally
uplifting, although reversely it can be morally degrading and rude as well. (Yesodha, D. N.,
Kanchana, V. S., & Sebastin, N. (2010). At the end of the day it is up to the consumer to see through
the fog of name brands and fancy catch phrases and celebrity endorsements to what is really being
sold, they must understand advertising for what it truly is, a tactic to make you see the world in the
way the advertiser wants you to see it, to side with their views, and to ultimately buy what they are
selling, whether it is a product, an idea, or a way of life. As this paper has hopefully illustrated
advertising is a huge part of the world we live in, and it is a part of the world that isnt going to go
away any time soon. As we continue to live with and be affected by the sway of advertising it will
be interesting to see how this powerful and influential force shapes us as consumers, and the world
as a whole.

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