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Ethics And Advertising

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1003 words
Social Issues

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Answers to the question of whether advertising media are operating ethically must be sought within the context of what advertising intends to do and the role it plays in the American media system. Advertiser's main purpose is to make consumers aware of new products and services and to persuade them to buy. Granted advertising does differ from the news and entertainment media, but that doesn't mean it should not have to follow similar ethical standards. Advertising, too, should be held to the truth, as many people take it at face value and gullibly believe all or most of what is said. Although it is true that we should learn how to interpret ads, it is not our responsibility to interpret an ad's honesty and accuracy. The definition of truth in this case should be the leaving out of any false statements used in an effort to deceive, and all relevant information, the good and the bad, must be included in the statement. The evidence and reasoning supporting the claim [must be] clear, accurate, relevant, and sufficient in quantity. Advertisers assume that we have the rationality to make decisions based on the information we are given, but how can we possibly make a rational decision when much of the information is left out? Or when the information given are exaggerations or downright lies?
Advertisers should also provide the greatest good to the most people, not just the greatest number of products sold to the most people. With this in mind, I'd like to discuss a few of the more abundant methods advertisers employ in order to deceive potential consumers and emphasize the features of their products. One of them is the appeal to an authority. This is clearly seen when companies use celebrities to sell their products, such as Michael Jordan selling phone services. The underlying message here is that people who use this service or buy this product will be living the high life of a celebrity when usually these famous people do not use the same product themselves.
Another big deception is the use of fine print. Advertisers often tout wonderful coverage of their products in bright, bold words and pictures, but they take it away in the fine print. This is where they put all the information about how the product may harm you or the stipulations that go along with their services, but it all too often goes unread and may cause serious harm to the consumer in certain cases (such as with over-the-counter medications).
Another form of deception is the use of ads made to look like and mimic news editorials, called advertorials, which take on the form of interviews, demonstrations, and discussions.
Probably the biggest deception is the suppression of certain information. Companies will emphasize the positive aspects of their products while downplaying the negatives. This is easily shown in a majority of commercials and ads when companies employ half-truths and vaguery. An example of suppressed information is the common labeling of foods as fat-free. Sure, they may be fat free, but they could very well be high in cholesterol, which the advertisement does not say. When cholesterol is digested, if the body does not burn it off, it is turned into fat. Another example is ad for Pepcid AC. The company professes its good qualities, but not once does it mention the seriousness of it's possible side-affects. It is important for companies to include the bad aspects of their products as well as the good so consumers can judge for themselves if they want to buy such products. This is especially so for companies offering medicines. They should have to clearly explain all of the possible bad side-affects of their product in order to protect their consumers from illness or death.
Another deception is when advertisers employ the use of weasel words, words that suck out all or most of an ad's meaning. For instance, Listerine 'fights' bad breath, but it does not cure it; Selsun Blue 'helps' control dandruff, but they don't say it gets rid of it; and Dawn dish detergent gets dishes 'virtually' spotless, but not completely clean.
The last big deception is the use of faulty comparisons. Pizza Hut often compares their pizza delivery service with lesser-known pizza parlors that don't deliver at all, ignoring their true competitor, Domino's, who do.
The other pitfall in advertising besides deception is dishonesty. Term paper services, for example, are dishonest businesses. The purpose of assigning students a paper is to get them involved in the research and writing processes; this is subverted when they buy the paper and pass it in as their own. Advertisements for helping people with bad credit, buying government surplus, and getting government or work-at-home jobs are usually dishonest scams. Often they require a deposit or a credit card payment in advance, but there is no guarantee of getting what you've paid for or that your credit card information will not be misused. These ads all capitalize on half-truths and trickery. The people cheated are often too embarrassed to admit their gullibility and seek redress, or decide that the amount lost is not worth the cost of pursuing the advertisers. This allows the advertisers to continue their scam and trick even more people with their dishonesty.
Advertisers also use the before mentioned deception. The tactics under this category include basing sales messages on incomplete evidence. A popular example of this is when a well-known cigarette company went to a college giving away free cigarettes. They then proceeded to ask all that were smoking which brand they had in their mouths at that time. Of course most of them were smoking the brand that was given for free, even if they usually smoked a different brand. These statistics were then used in a commercial to deceive the public into thinking that so many percent of the population were smoking that brand and that they should too. Another deceptive tactic is the bait-and-switch method, where a ...

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