Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Advertisements: How far can they go?

Advertisements: How far can they go?

 Are advertisements harmless entertainment such as those we enjoy during the Super Bowl, an inescapable but morally permissible annoyance, or manipulative and potentially harmful? Many of us would recognize that advertisements can influence us. Because of this influence, there laws in place to prevent certain types of advertisements. Two large issues in advertising is the accuracy of the statements given, as well as protections for children.  And when these laws are broken, lawsuits follow - such as one person who sued over the misleading ad campaign claiming that red bull gives you wings.

What do various ethical codes say about advertising? The Advertising Standards Authority of New Zealand code illuminates some of the morally questionable practices - first and foremost, an advertisement cannot mislead or deceive. This is not only an ethical standard but also a legal one in many countries. They then list different criteria that ads must follow, one being that an ad must be identifiable as an ad. That is, you must be able to tell what is and what is not an advertisement. The importance of this point is that, according to Brucks, Goldberg, and Armstrong in a 1986 study, you need to know you are consuming an ad to use cognitive defenses. If you know you are consuming an ad, then you can appropriately assume it is biased and persuasive and respond accordingly. If you do not know you are consuming an ad, then you may make false assumptions and be more likely to buy into whatever the ad is selling, figuratively and literally. This becomes especially important when dealing with children. Brucks, Goldberg, and Armstrong estimate that children can know the intent of ads by age seven, but cannot fully process and defend against them until age eleven. Due to the more vulnerable nature of children, there are many more regulations protecting them, varying in each country.

In concordance with the Advertising Standards Authority of New Zealand code, many other codes carry the requirement of non-deceiving, such as the Canadian Marketing Association’s code and the American Marketing Association’s code. The Canadian code also touches on children’s rights - ads are not supposed to urge children to ask their parents to purchase items. Marketers can also not accept purchases from children without parents consent. There is an emphasis not only on young children but also on teenager’s rights not to be exploited due to their lack of maturation and knowledge. The other two codes mentioned do not give any specific recommendations or cautions for marketing to children or teenagers.

What ethical issues do you think advertisements may pose? Are they answered by any of the above-mentioned codes? There are many more at the Ethics Codes Collection.

The Ethics Code Collection is managed by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. Look forward to a new and improved website come September!

Written by Alice Amell

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