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Advertising Ethical Dilemmas


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Ethics in advertising is a serious subject. First and foremost, advertisers must sell the product or service that they represent. On the other hand, however, advertising agents and companies must also be truthful and ethical in their portrayals and not deceive their consumers. These two demands create a tension that is heightened for controversial products or audience demographics, such as tobacco, alcohol, condoms, pharmaceutics, and children.

Tobacco, a legal but lethal product, creates an especially tricky dilemma for advertisers. Likewise, alcohol forms controversial campaigns for many agencies. Some companies handle the dilemma by refusing to do ad work for either group or by offering free services to health or cause-related groups like Mothers against Drunk Driving. However, sticky situations cannot be avoided by simply shunning the industry. What if the makers of a certain cigarette brand also manufacture cat food, which the agency has been asked to represent?

Condoms are another source of tough choices in the world of advertising. Many television channels refuse to show condom commercials. Product demonstration is critical in advertisements for condoms and some agencies evade the ethical issue of premarital sex by only displaying people with wedding bands. This choice introduces another moral question because the main market for condoms is non-married people. The Creative Director of Trojan Condoms captures this issue by asking “do you show the real truth and take the consequences?"

Pharmaceutical products also generate more ethical issues. Advertisements for new medicines are helpful because they inform consumers of up and coming treatments and solutions for medical problems. However, pharmaceutical companies only promote their biggest money makers. This choice fails to provide patients with alternative solutions, which can often times be more effective and cheaper. Downplaying harmful side-effects is another grey area in advertising medicine.

In terms of audience dilemmas, children form the most contentious demographic. Is product branding at an early age a correct moral decision? What does it mean to see kids today requesting cell phones and toys by brand name rather than wanting to hang out with their friends or play outside? What products are considered proper to market to children? In commercials aimed at kids, what types of behaviors should be modeled?

As you can tell, the world of advertising contains many grey areas of ethical choices. By choosing to actively evaluate situations such as these, advertising agents can strengthen their moral compass. This helps advertisers to make the best decisions, both for the company they advertise for and society in general.

If you are interested in learning more, this business website can help.

Joseph Devine


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