Advertising Ethics

Do you have a positive view of advertising? Do you think ads are honest and informative, or do you think that claims made in ads are exaggerated, inflated, or just plain untrue? Advertising often gets a bad rap, that can sometimes be deserved.

Remember the foreign car manufacturer who advertised its environmentally friendly, clean diesel, which only appeared clean because they had installed software which cheated emission testing for seven years? While that company may have made false claims with malicious intent, here are examples of advertising images versus the reality we encounter—and tolerate—every day, although these, too, are obviously misleading:

Where is the line that separates the falsehoods we will accept from those we won’t, and who is to blame for ethical transgressions in ads?

In recent years, many large companies have developed in-house advertising and marketing agencies, and that can be a problem. When advertising moves in-house, and everyone is on the same payroll, hoping to please the same board of directors, and wanting to keep their jobs, objectivity is often the first thing that falls by the wayside.

Twenty years ago, the Vatican issued three moral principles for ethics in advertising:  be truthful, be socially responsible, and uphold human dignity. Despite some examples to the contrary, most advertising agencies abide by those principles.

Today, whether advertising on the radio, social media, or mobile video, audiences are smarter than ever and can instantly spot a mistruth or inflated claim. An inappropriate post or thoughtless ad can light the internet on fire, doing irreparable damage to a brand. Just ask the cola company whose recent ad featuring a reality TV star continues to be a public relations headache for them.

It’s a different world than it was a decade ago. With very few exceptions, advertising agencies don’t try to sell products people don’t need, nor do they make unsupported claims. Ad agencies in 2017 know that the average person’s attention span is eight seconds—barely enough time to state a product’s name, what it does, and why it’s worth trying.

Advertisers can only hope that they’ve been creative enough to capture a customer’s attention with an eye-catching and informative message, presented in an honest and ethical manner, which will be remembered for longer than eight seconds. At McFadden/Gavender, we’ve got this art down to a science. Call Barbara McFadden or Karen Gavender, and let’s chat about how we can help.