Ethics in Advertising

Ethics means a set of moral principles which govern a person’s behavior or how the activity is conducted. And advertising means a mode of communication between a seller and a buyer.

Thus ethics in advertising means a set of well defined principles which govern the ways of communication taking place between the seller and the buyer. Ethics is the most important feature of the advertising industry. Though there are many benefits of advertising but then there are some points which don’t match the ethical norms of advertising.

An ethical ad is the one which doesn’t lie, doesn’t make fake or false claims and is in the limit of decency.

Nowadays, ads are more exaggerated and a lot of puffing is used. It seems like the advertisers lack knowledge of ethical norms and principles. They just don’t understand and are unable to decide what is correct and what is wrong.

The main area of interest for advertisers is to increase their sales, gain more and more customers, and increase the demand for the product by presenting a well decorated, puffed and colorful ad. They claim that their product is the best, having unique qualities than the competitors, more cost effective, and more beneficial. But most of these ads are found to be false, misleading customers and unethical. The best example of these types of ads is the one which shows evening snacks for the kids, they use coloring and gluing to make the product look glossy and attractive to the consumers who are watching the ads on television and convince them to buy the product without giving a second thought.

Ethics in Advertising is directly related to the purpose of advertising and the nature of advertising. Sometimes exaggerating the ad becomes necessary to prove the benefit of the product. For e.g. a sanitary napkin ad which shows that when the napkin was dropped in a river by some girls, the napkin soaked whole water of the river. Thus, the purpose of advertising was only to inform women about the product quality. Obviously, every woman knows that this cannot practically happen but the ad was accepted. This doesn’t show that the ad was unethical.

Ethics also depends on what we believe. If the advertisers make the ads on the belief that the customers will understand, persuade them to think, and then act on their ads, then this will lead to positive results and the ad may not be called unethical. But at the same time, if advertisers believe that they can fool their customers by showing any impractical things like just clicking fingers will make your home or office fully furnished or just buying a lottery ticket will make you a millionaire, then this is not going to work out for them and will be called as unethical.

Recently, the Vetican issued an article which says ads should follow three moral principles - Truthfulness, Social Responsibility and Upholding Human Dignity.

Generally, big companies never lie as they have to prove their points to various ad regulating bodies. Truth is always said but not completely. Sometimes its better not to reveal the whole truth in the ad but at times truth has to be shown for betterment.

Pharmaceutical Advertising - they help creating awareness, but one catchy point here is that the advertisers show what the medicine can cure but never talk about the side effects of that same thing or the risks involved in intake of it.

Children - children are the major sellers of the ads and the product. They have the power to convince the buyers. But when advertisers are using children in their ad, they should remember not to show them alone doing there work on their own like brushing teeth, playing with toys, or infants holding their own milk bottles as everyone knows that no one will leave their kids unattended while doing all these activities. So showing parents also involved in all activities or things being advertised will be more logical.

Alcohol - till today, there hasn’t come any liquor ad which shows anyone drinking the original liquor. They use mineral water and sodas in their advertisements with their brand name. These types of ads are called surrogate ads. These type of ads are totally unethical when liquor ads are totally banned. Even if there are no advertisements for alcohol, people will continue drinking.

Cigarettes and Tobacco - these products should be never advertised as consumption of these things is directly and badly responsible for cancer and other severe health issues. These as are already banned in countries like India, Norway, Thailand, Finland and Singapore.

Ads for social causes - these types of ads are ethical and are accepted by the people. But ads like condoms and contraceptive pills should be limited, as these are sometimes unethical, and are more likely to loose morality and decency at places where there is no educational knowledge about all these products.

Looking at all these above mentioned points, advertisers should start taking responsibility of self regulating their ads by:

  • design self regulatory codes in their companies including ethical norms, truth, decency, and legal points
  • keep tracking the activities and remove ads which don’t fulfill the codes.
  • Inform the consumers about the self regulatory codes of the company
  • Pay attention on the complaints coming from consumers about the product ads.
  • Maintain transparency throughout the company and system.

When all the above points are implemented, they will result in:

  • making the company answerable for all its activities
  • will reduce the chances of getting pointed out by the critics or any regulatory body.
  • will help gain confidence of the customers, make them trust the company and their products.


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