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									And media ethics
Advertising ethics
 Advertising has always been part of American culture.
 From colonial times, this country has promoted itself.
Advertising ethics
 Americans generally support extensive advertising in
  their culture.
 We believe rational people can be savvy enough to sort
  out advertising appeals.
Advertising ethics
 We know advertising has powerful effects in society.
 We don’t often know when, and how, however.
 Advertising’s supporters say self-interest brings buyers
  and sellers together so everyone is happy.
 Critics say ads exploit the public and appeals to
  people’s worst side.
Advertising ethics
 Advertising relates to media ethics in a variety of areas:
 Stereotypes.
 What is appropriate to advertise?
 How to make appropriate advertising pitches?
 What kind of ads should appear, in what media?
 How far should advertisers invade privacy?
Advertising ethics
 Ethics philosophers say one standard doesn’t apply to
    advertising: truth.
   By “truth,” in this case, we mean, fair, unbiased
   Advertising does not generally provide that.
   Most advertising can be called “opinion”: the tastiest
    beer, the sexiest perfume.
   These claims can’t usually be verified as “true.”
Advertising ethics
 The Federal Trade Commission regulates most
  advertising for outright lying or deception.
 You can’t make false statements in an attempt to
 But this often is a gray area.
Advertising ethics
 Fair and balanced doesn’t apply to advertising.
 Advertising plays up strong points, and plays down
 We presume the public knows this, but some people
  really don’t quite remember that.
Advertising ethics
 Rationally it would be good to demand that advertisers
  use clear, relevant and truthful evidence to support a
 But most advertisers don’t appeal to a rational side.
  Instead they try to create an appealing lifestyle around
  a product.
 “Evidence” is irrelevant.
Advertising ethics
 We can identify special cases regarding advertising
 that are worth closer examination in a discussion of
 media ethics.
Advertising ethics
 First is political advertising.
 Should political candidates, central to the democratic
  process, be advertised using evidence and rational
 We know they are not.
 Political advertisers may argue that the goal is
  persuasion, and if they stray from the truth, the
  “marketplace of ideas” will sort out misleading
Advertising ethics
 So, once again, those in favor of advertising shift the
  burden of sorting out the good from the bad to society.
 But should not advertisers share that burden?
Advertising ethics
 Second case: advertising from groups professing an
 Ecology, animal rights, abortion, gun rights, anti-
  smoking, etc.
 Do these groups have some ethical responsibility to
  tell the truth?
 Many groups argue their cause is critically important.
  But where do we draw the line?
Advertising ethics
 Third, advertising for harmful produces.
 What is the ethical standard for things that can hurt
 Cigarette ads, of course, have been carefully
  controlled. Since 1971 they have been banned from
 These clearly were the kind of ads that appealed to
  children, and today, it is hard to defend their ethical
Advertising ethics
 Okay, so cigarette advertising today is fairly tightly
 But what about ads for alcohol, guns, pornography,
  strip joints, term paper companies…all legal, but not
  necessarily always healthy to society.
Advertising ethics
 What about movies and television?
 Humphrey Bogart smoked all the time. (He died of
  throat cancer.) Many young people were encouraged to
  smoke based on this suave, sexy movie star.
 Smoking was widespread in the advertising world of
  the 1960s. But should it be depicted in a popular
  program today, such as “Mad Men?” Will people
  attracted to the retro chic pick up that habit?
Advertising ethics
 A fourth area concerns separation of advertising and
   Most newspapers label advertising as such, and clearly
    separate it from news.
   In magazines, it’s not so certain.
   Should media reveal when it does a story on an
    industry based on the amount of advertising it
   Should programs feature brand-named products
    whose placement was obviously paid for?
Advertising ethics
 What about news celebrities?
 Should people who present news shows also do
 If not, should sports or weather presenters also do
  advertising? Where to draw the line?
Advertising ethics
 A fifth special area: dishonest, deceptive content.
 Is it ethical to mislead people in advertising?
 While the FTC requires truth, advertisers can
  nevertheless get buy with misleading to an extent, and
  extent some would call deception.
 Is it ethical to advertise credit cards for people with
  little income or poor credit, while not divulging large
  fees and penalties?
Advertising ethics
 Is it ethical to advertise “work at home” schemes
  (Make $20,000 a year!), despite that most of these are
  scams for gullible readers?
 What about weight-loss products that promise to
  “melt fat away,” or give unreasonable results?
 What about exercise products that are useless?
Advertising ethics
 Does the medium itself have some responsibility to
  protect its readers or viewers from misleading
 Some editors believe so, and more did in the past;
  many would not accept advertising for liquor, guns,
  abortion clinics or “gentlemen’s clubs.”
 But does their refusal constitute a limit on free speech?
Advertising ethics
 What about ads that don’t necessarily try to sell such
  services, but do enhance photos to make the product
  or service look better than it really is?
 Is it ethical to use Photoshop to improve skin, make
  people thinner, make wrinkles vanish?
 Is it unethical to make clothes or food look better?
Advertising ethics
 Sixth: Using sex, fear, or violence to sell.
 Sex sells, the others also appeal to primal emotions.
  That makes them effective sales tools.
 You seldom see models ad ads who look like real
  people. Does this lead to unrealistic goals of thinness
  and beauty?
Advertising ethics
 A seventh area: placement.
 Have media which include material emphasizing
  social responsibility, healthy or good behavior some
  ethical consideration regarding placement?
 What about an ad which seems to promote the
  opposite: a story about healthy eating next to a
  “supersize” fast food ad?
 Some media try to avoid this conflict by going ad-free.
  Consumer Reports is an obvious example.
Advertising ethics
 But many media have tried that, and have gone out of
 Public television is supposedly ad-free, but what about
  considerations of sponsors?
 Public broadcasting has become more and more
  obtrusive in its fundraising efforts and credits to
  corporate donors. Is this in effect advertising?
Advertising ethics
 What would the great philosophers say?
 It seems most advertisers would argue from the
  teleological perspective: the ends justify the means.
 Pressure groups do this all the time. They will argue
  that can show color close-ups of aborted fetuses,
  cancerous throats, beaten animals or abused children
  because “the cause is just.”
Advertising ethics
 Politicians use lies and half truths “to get that
  scurrilous opponent out of office.”
 But is this kind of advertising destructive to a
  democratic society?
 What would Kant say? “Just tell the truth.”
 But what if the truth meant displeasing your employer,
  not promoting a product that could do good for others,
  or failing in your advertising?
Advertising ethics
 The question, then, as one media ethicist said: truth or
 Do we generally expect advertisers to tell the truth?
 We say no, we say we are jaded, savvy consumers who
  can read through advertising claims.
Advertising ethics
 But are we deceiving ourselves?
 Many people love advertising, the entertainment, the
 We happily wear walking advertisements for soft
  drinks, beer or athletic shoes on our clothing—and in
  fact usually we happily pay for the privilege.
Advertising ethics
 America accepts more advertising in more places than
  any country in the world.
 In fact, in this more difficult economy, many
  Americans are willing to accept it in more places than
  ever before: on school buses, applied to school lockers,
  in parks and in other public places once closed from
Advertising ethics
 We don’t seem to be nearly as cynical regarding
  advertising as we like to profess.
 While we say we are sophisticated Americans who can
  sort through it all, it’s at least worth asking ethical
  questions regarding what should be advertising,
  where, when, and how.

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