ethical responsibility of advertisers

In today’s world, the general public cannot ignore the effects of advertisements on their daily lives. According to a study, the importance of ads is increasingly growing in the western world. Though an advertisement is a public notice intended to relay information and invite some kind of patronage or reaction, it is the responsibility of the advertisement to advise and convince in an ethical manner. Advertising, like the internet, has an immense impact everywhere, and as such, it is a dominant factor in transforming perceptions and behavioral trends in the modern world. Research conducted shows that many companies in the mainstream marketplace place a lot of capital on the advertisement of the products (Stanbrook 2000). Without a doubt, such companies utilize celebrities to provide a higher degree of appeal, capture the attention and possibly a message recall compared to those instances when a celebrity does not do the advertisement. Nonetheless, most marketers believe that in such cases where adverts utilize celebrities, they offer credibility of the claims made by the brand on the advert (Spence and Van Heekeren 2005). On the flip side, it is imperative to note that all forms of advertisement should comply with certain ethical standards and as such ethical dilemmas sometimes face such advertising firms. The role of this paper, therefore, is to investigate the ethical problems found in advertisements both in content and the message of commercials. Without a doubt, advertisers have a moral responsibility in ensuring their adverts are honest, decent, and truthful.

The Benefits of Advertising

In the modern world, there is the devotion of human resources and other materials to advertisements. Without a doubt, advertising is everywhere in the contemporary world as such not a single person can escape the influence of commercials (Buchholtz and Carroll 2012). In one way or the other, a person encounters a form of advertising, and this can range from an acquaintance affected either in a good or bad way by the advertising messages and their techniques. Pundits believe that advertising is a good way of making known a product to a large number of people by either the use of print media or any other medium. In retrospective, critics view advertising as a waste of time, money, talent, and it’s essentially a parasitic activity. As such, they see advertising as not only harmful to the recipients but to the whole society as it can bring up corrupt individuals. It is, therefore, important to highlight the significance of advertising in the contemporary world.

Economic Effects

The economic implications of advertising guided by moral norms, ethics and the responsiveness to the common good can contribute to human development. It is an integral part of the functioning of the contemporary modern market economics which continuously emerge or are already in existence in many regions of the world (Buchholtz and Carroll 2012). Advertising can, therefore, play a significant role in promoting economic prosperity by informing people about the availability of desirable products which are present in the market. Further, it can play a role in informing the consumer of the existence of certain kinds of services and the improvement of the already existing services. As such when adverts conform to given business ethics, they can assist consumers in making prudent consumer decisions, and this can effectively contribute to the lowering of prices, and thus leading to economic progress (Buchholtz and Carroll 2012). In most cases, advertisers bombard clients with adverts in the hope that they will choose the advertised products. When they, on the other hand, spend the money on the product, they put money into the economy. On the contrary, the quality of the adverts which subscribes to the ethical standards can make the economy flourish as they can create a thriving market economy or can bring the market to stagnate when they do not comply with certain ethical issues.

Cultural Effects

Advertisers always have an opportunity to exert either a positive or negative influence on the decisions made about the media content. They can manage to do this by supporting material which is of excellent intellectual, moral, and aesthetic quality which they can present with the interest of the public in view. Consequently, adverts can contribute to a better society by giving them the morale to participate in those ways that can benefit not only them but others. In some of the adverts made, they incorporate the culture and modern art of a given group of people (Buchholtz and Carroll 2012). When displayed in the right way this can go a long way in influencing how other people view their art and culture. Nonetheless, adverts can have a corrupting impact on the culture and the cultural values of a particular group of individuals if displayed in a manner destructive pattern. Often, advertisements have contributed to the cultural stereotyping of a certain group of people and thus placing them at a disadvantage in relation to others.

The Impacts of Advertising Children

Various research conducted on the influence of advertisements on children on such issues as product preference and consumption have shown that ads achieve their intended purpose on the children who in many cases typically recall the content of the advertisements to which they were exposed (Stanbrook 2000). Most importantly, the research indicated that the children in most cases influenced the decision that the parents made while buying the products. One of the fundamental questions that resulted from this study is the potential harm that advertisement can have on children resulting from exposure to the ads. For example, several studies have shown that ads have led to instances of parent-child conflicts when the parents deny their children the preferred products which in most cases were precipitated by the advert. Indeed, there are various ethical issues pinpointed when it comes to adverts aimed at children with the FTC bringing regulations designed to ensuring that advertisements comply with truth-in-advertising laws (Preston 2005).

According to a report by FTC, advertisements have made the instances of obesity in children to double as adverts fail to comply with laws governing food marketing to children (Preston 2005). While many factors contribute to childhood obesity, FTC believes that responsible advertising can play a huge role in improving the children’s diet and their physical activity. While working with different government agencies, FTC has conducted workshops and issued numerous reports governing food marketing, child obesity, and has come up with a comprehensive study on the effects of food advertising on children (O’Barr 2007). Moreover, research has found a relationship between the way children view tobacco and alcohol with critics expressing their concern about the prevalence of such adverts which target children. In most cases, children are affected by tobacco adverts even before the child can fully comprehend the purpose of the advertisement. Tobacco adverts in most cases exploit the vulnerability of children by making tobacco have the aura of the desired self-image, independence, and means of acceptance by their peers. Recent research conducted indicate that children’s view on smoking is influenced by the adverts that they view (Preston 2005). One way to reduce such occurrences is by coming up with comprehensive tobacco control policies on advertisements as such reduce the overall effects of unethical adverts on children.

Social Responsibilities of Advertising

Without a doubt, advertisements have a cultural and economic responsibility as they can either positively or negatively influence them depending on if they meet the ethical standards. However, for an ad to be considered socially responsible, then it must comply with certain ethical standards in place. Several advertisements campaigns have focused on Corporate Social Responsibility marketing as such if the public views the ads as being deceptive, then the company is likely to be considered as lacking regardless of the theme of the advertisement.

The Truth in Advertising

In most cases, businesses always find themselves in a paradox as it’s not an advertiser’s job to provide the consumers with a detailed overview of the products benefits and their disadvantages. It is the role of the advertiser to present the product favorably to the consumer as such they end up making a purchase (Spence and Van Heekeren 2005). In retrospective, it is overly unethical of the advertising firm to manipulate the consumers by depriving them the requisite information as such making them fail to make an informed decision. Therefore, it is overly hard to achieve a balance between honesty and persuasiveness, but in most cases, the advertisers try as much as possible despite the difficulty that they encounter. Further, it also becomes hard for the advertisers to know what counts as ethical and a socially responsible behavior. One of the reasons why advertisers should behave ethically is because they must present their companies in ways that are favorable to their clients or they can end up doing more damage to their business (Spence and Van Heekeren 2005). For example, an advertiser can show a company as offering high-quality products to the consumers.

However, on the other hand, the users can learn that the advert on the company product was misleading as such the backlash can cause permanent damage to the reputation of the enterprise. Once the client realizes that the advertiser acted unethically, the advertisement loses the motive behind its launch. Therefore, truthfulness is one of the requirements for any socially permissible advertisement (Spence and Van Heekeren 2005). There are laws in place that seek to make sure that the adverts comply with advertising and marketing laws and failure to comply with the regulations could result in civil lawsuits and penalties this ensures that there is consumers protection. When consumers see or hear an advertisement, the federal laws in place requires that the ad should be truthful and not be misleading in other cases the advertisement should have scientific backing. It is the role of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the truth in advertising laws no matter where the advert appears. The major area of concern for FTC are those adverts that affect the health of the consumers, the pocket books, over the counter drugs, alcohol, and tobacco (Stanbrook 2000). In an instance where fraud case hits a customer, it is the role of the FTC to file actions in the court for the immediate action to stop the perpetuation of the scam, freeze the assets of the organization carrying out the scams, and seek compensation for the victims.

Company Social and Ethical Responsibility in Advertising

In the modern world, advertisements have a profound effect on every facet of human existence as it can shape the behaviors and attitudes of those who view the advert. Most commercial messages appear on Television, billboards, newspapers, and on websites. Adverts are one of the few modes of communication that a company can initiate and maintain contact with the customers or prospects. Business ethics demands that such a company should conduct its dealings in ways that are right in the society’s view (Stanbrook 2000). When a corporation performs an ethical practice, then this shows that it has received consent from the society in which the company carries out its business. In the contemporary world, it is of utter importance if business confines themselves to ethical advertisements. Having moral and social responsibilities ensures that the company shows concern for all the people seeing their commercials. It is important to note that all those businesses that do not incorporate ethics in their advertisements are not always as effective as before. Numerous studies conducted indicate that ethical practices have become a vital component of the marketing strategy of business (Stanbrook 2000).

There is mounting pressure growing on the business platforms for the advertisements to be socially, morally, and culturally ethical as there are rising instances of the crisis of trust in the marketplace. Such ethical breaches by some of the companies have resulted in many businesses to be under the scrutiny of the public. Further, the advertisements industry has come under constant criticism because of the exaggeration and the publishing of some misleading claims about the business and the services that the company offers (Preston 2005). However, due to increased consumer awareness firms have come to realize that maintaining a particular trend of ethical responsibility is requisite to the company’s credibility. Consumers, as well as other advocate groups, believe that businesses should not only focus on making profits but should consider the implication of their activities on the society. As such while considering ethical practices, an organization should focus on maximizing its positive outcomes while minimizing the adverse consequences in the community.

Deceptive Advertising

An array of advertisements from different mediums continuously faces consumers in their everyday life. In many cases, the consumers believe that an announcement is real when it is false. In such a case, the product on the advert can harm the consumer when the consumer uses the product. Further, certain advertisement lay claims about their products that seem exaggerated (O’Barr 2007). The current deceptive claims are in most instances manipulative as such the consumer cannot manage to make an informed decision when coming to the decision of purchasing a product. Deceptive advertising can take many forms which can range from creating a false impression, the use of misleading statements, and visual distortion of the products to fake testimonials. The use of deception in the advertisement of products in an attempt to gain customers cannot guarantee on an organization’s success. In those instances where profit is the only aim, most companies tend to use ads with misleading information.

One of the noticeable adverse effects of such deceptive advertisement is that it makes the consumer make uninformed decisions (O’Barr 2007). For example, when a customer lacks the whole truth about a product, then they are unlikely to make the best decisions regarding the product. The client can end up wasting money on the product or the services they wanted to buy, and the product or service can fail to provide what the customer is wanted. The fundamental outlook of false advertisement might seem to harm the consumer and thus end up benefiting the business that employed the practice. However, deceptive advertising can have adverse effects on the companies that use it as an angry customer will always retaliate with a negative word of mouth and in extreme cases lawsuits. Some examples of false advertisement are the advertisement of harmful products which in most cases always end up affecting the health of the consumer.

Endorsement of Harmful Products

The support of dangerous products remains one of the ethical issues in the realm of advertising that advertisers have continuously failed to follow regulations. The most controversial products in this category being tobacco, alcohol products, and over the counter prescription drugs (O’Barr 2007). Such products may have potential harm to the consumers if improperly used by those users prohibited from using them. In any advertisement, the adverts should send the right message with the possible adverse effects that the consumption of such products can have on the person. For example, products such as cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, and over the counter drugs, should have warning labels indicating the effects of such products on a person’s health. Given the high incidence rates of diseases as lung cancer and other smoking-related complications, critics contend that the advertisement of cigarettes without taking all the ethical consideration is detrimental to the consumers. Advertisers have a moral responsibility not to mislead the public as failure to comply with all the ethical standards can conceal the important effects of such harmful products on the human life. Often, the unethical advertisement of these products will always resort to hiding the effects of their products without attaching the statutory warnings that highlight the risks involved. The advertisers of such harmful products always release catchy advertisements of cigarettes, alcohol, and OTC drugs which end up giving the impression that the use of such products is indeed graceful (O’Barr 2007).


From the above analysis, it is evident that advertisers have an ethical responsibility not to mislead the public as giving false information can lead to health problems, affect the view of children on products such as tobacco, and influence the economy and culture of the country. To improve advertising ethics, then the various governing bodies should come up with statutes that discourage fraud in the advertisements. Further, the FTC whose main area of concern is consumer protection should ensure that ads stick to the ethical guidelines laid out (Stanbrook 2000). Advertising has powerful effects on the society; therefore, it can be nice if advertisers use clear, relevant, and truthful evidence that support their claims. In sum, advertisers owe it to the consumers, to tell the truth about their products as it is their ethical responsibility. All advertisements should be truthful with all the claims having ascertainable facts when called upon to do so by the FTC. Lastly, advertisers should not distort facts about their products, and it is the obligation of the company carrying out the advertisement to guarantee accurate presentation, social responsibility, safety and health, and honesty.


Buchholtz, A. and Carroll, A. (2012). Business & society. 1st ed. S.l.: South-Western Cengage Learning.

O’Barr, W. (2007). Ethics and Advertising. Advertising & Society Review, 8(3).

Preston, C. (2005). Advertising to children and social responsibility. Young Consumers, 6(4), pp.61-67.

Spence, E. and Van Heekeren, B. (2005). Advertising ethics. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Stanbrook, L. (2000). Marketing to Kids in the 21st Century — Policy and Legislation Affecting Advertising to Children. International Journal of Advertising and Marketing to Children, 1(4), pp.325-332.

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