Balancing Ethical Issues in Advertising

We are bombarded by advertising all day, every day. Whether we are thumbing through a magazine, flipping through television channels, or driving across town, advertising is everywhere. Within 5 minutes of waking up, I once counted 62 brands in my bed room alone.

While we observe advertisements – print ads, television commercials, billboards – how often do we see those of scandalous, seductive, or just plain inappropriate nature? While I’m thumbing  through my magazines and flipping through my television channels I see plenty of ads and commercials that I would never want my (potential) future children to see. What kind of society do we live in today? Are there any restrictions on what companies can and cannot advertise and/or portray in their advertisements?

Here in the United States, the American Association of Advertising Agencies has adopted the following Standards of Practice. They believe these standards are in the best interest of the public, the advertisers, the media owners, and agencies themselves. Although these standards are voluntary and despite the competitive nature of advertising and need for growth of American business, many agencies use them as a structure for their work.

(found at these words are not my own, but a posted code of ethics on AAAA’s website)

[We the members of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, in addition to supporting and obeying the laws and legal regulations pertaining to advertising, undertake to extend and broaden the application of high ethical standards. Specifically, we will not knowingly produce advertising which contains:

a. False or misleading statements or exaggerations, visual or verbal.

b. Testimonials which do not reflect the real choice of a competent witness.

c. Price claims which are misleading.

d. Comparisons which unfairly disparage a competitive product or service.

e. Claims insufficiently supported, or which distort the true meaning of practicable application of statements made by professional or scientific authority.

f. Statements, suggestions or pictures offensive to public decency.]

As you can see from this code of ethics, many agencies don’t apply these standards to their advertisements. The last portion stating “statements, suggestions, or pictures offensive to public decency,” is actually laughable.

Where is the line drawn in regards to what should be advertised and what shouldn’t? Are the fast food chain advertisements starring women washing cars in wet bikinis really that great for business? Do we want young girls seeing these commercials while they are watching televisions with their parents? Obviously the target market is every male in America, but should these agencies be allowed to have such male slanted target audiences and make women feel uncomfortable in the process?

With fear of sounding too conservative, I think women shouldn’t be depicted as sex symbols in advertising. Sadly this has become the norm in American culture.


2 thoughts on “Balancing Ethical Issues in Advertising

  1. I really enjoyed this post Kali! Awesome job! Looking at some of today’s ads really does make you think about the kinds of morals and values companies are wanting portray. I’m glad to see that the AAA has put out guidelines that company’s can follow. I hope that more agencies start to pay attention to these guidelines and start to make a change.


  2. I think the issue of women’s portrayal in advertising goes far beyond the question of conservatism or modesty, if that’s what you meant, Kali. It demonstrates a huge problem with attitudes toward women and certainly deserves far more attention and discussion in our society.


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