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ETHICAL ISSUES IN

ADVERTISEMENT

Prepared for:
Razi Allah Lone
Assistant Professor
Fast Business School

Prepared by:
Sana Arif Butt,
Haseeb Ahmed,
Hafiz Zeeshan Ali

May 6th, 2009


MEMORANDUM
TO: Mr. Razi Allah Lone

FROM: Group 4

DATE: May 6, 2009

SUBJECT: Report on ethics in advertisement

Here is the report you requested March 30th on ethics in business.


We focused on the ethics in advertisement business in our report.

As you know business ethics is the application of ethical values in


the business world and it is gaining importance day by day.
However during our research we found that advertisement
companies are using many unethical practices to advertise their
products or services, which is really becoming a big problem for the
consumers. In today’s advertisements many companies are
promoting negative behavior while targeting youth and children.
They are also using many advertisement tools like subliminal
advertisements, comparative and competitive advertisements in
unethical way to advertise their products.

After a complete and thorough analysis of the whole scenario, we


have included some recommendations in our report which will be
helpful for the advertisers to keep their advertisements effective
and ethical in every manner.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to work on this assignment. It’s


been a real education. If you have any questions about the report,
please give us a call.

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Contents

Contents............................................................................................3

Bibliography.....................................................................................22

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report analyzes the ethical issues practiced in the


advertisements to attract the target market and presents the
recommendations for reducing the intensity of these issues.

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

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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.

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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.

INTRODUCTION

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.

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Problem

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

Purpose and Scope

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?

Sources and Methods

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.

Limitations

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
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and competitive/ comparative advertisement.

Report organization

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
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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:

1) Advertisements targeting Vulnerable Groups

2) Cultural issues in advertisements

3) Comparative/competitive advertisements

4) Subliminal advertisements

5) Use of deception in advertisements

6) 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
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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.

Subliminal Advertisement

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

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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.

ADVERTIEMENT 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.

Children

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
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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

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(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).

Materialistic Attitude

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.

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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.

Youth

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.

1) Food Advertisements

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2) Promotion of negative behavior

3) Promotion of foreign culture

We will discuss these issues one by one.

Food advertisement

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

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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.

Developing Countries

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.

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CULTURAL ADVERTISING

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
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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
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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

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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.

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CONCLUSION

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.

RECOMMENDATIONS

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.

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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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