Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This is Bad Banning not Reasonable Regulations

Anti-tobacco ads are familiar to most of us in the United States.  I remember seeing ads telling me and my family about the dangers of smoking as a child in the early 1990s and I continue to see them as a married adult even today in 2012.  After reading the article about tobacco advertising regulation I realized that most people under twenty-five, myself included, would have a hard time recalling an advertisement promoting tobacco use seen during their lifetime.  I do not smoke and find the habit to be quite disgusting; with that said, I do not see enough reason for the tobacco companies to be banned from advertising their products.  I take the second stance:  bans on advertising for tobacco products are unethical.  Let us look at this from two perspectives: simple business and complex justice.  

First we will tackle the simple business perspective.  Under the assumption that tobacco companies are legal taxpaying entities they are entitled to advertise their products as any other company would.  Federal bans and restrictions on their advertising could be seen as a type of discrimination.  There should be some type of regulation because it is an adult product with known health effects.  These regulations should be concerned with during what programming, time of day, and so forth to avoid as much advertising to children, individuals with limited capacities, and other vulnerable groups.  Healthy – mentally and physically – adults, smokers and nonsmokers representing both current and potential customers, should be the target audience.  The bans on advertising for tobacco products are unethical because legitimate companies should have the right to advertise their products in the United States, especially since there are numerous advertisements against them. 

Second we look at this from a complex justice or “fairness” perspective.  Is it fair that tobacco companies cannot freely advertise their products?  The argument presented in the Wikipedia article focuses on how the detrimental effects of tobacco products on the health of consumers have lead governments and regulatory bodies to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship in many countries around the world.[i]  Despite the known health risks there are dozens of unhealthy products advertised every day.  For years there have been connections drawn between cell phones and brain tumors, artificial sweeteners and cancer, and alcohol and mental, developmental, and physical risks[ii] just to name a few.  The only way to make the playing field just is by placing bans on all of these potentially lethal products, regulating them as best as possible, or allowing them all to freely advertise.  In this country tobacco is being singled out by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.[iii]  For these reasons, I do think that it is unethical to ban advertisements for these products but not others that may be just as damaging to the consumers health.   

[i]Tobacco Advertising. (2012, September 24). Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Wikipedia:

[ii] Alcohol and Public Health. (2011, October 28). Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

[iii] "The Public and Broadcasting" - July 2008. (2011, Jully 20). Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Federal Communications Commission:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Unethical Truth: Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal advertising is everywhere…or is it?  The fact that some would try to appeal to my subconscious mind with hidden sounds or images is intriguing but ethically sound, I think not.  The practice itself is science which is neither good or bad however the scientist or the user of such techniques, in this case subliminal advertising, can be designated as good or bad.  Let’s ask ourselves a question.  Why would someone want to advertise subliminally?  Is this something they cannot openly advertise?  Are they hiding something deeper?  The list goes on and the questions only lead to more sinister suspicions.  For most of us, what’s ethical can be summed up by anything we can do – without shame – in front of our rose-planting, church-going, sweet-faced grandmother; if we have to disguise or encode messages then it is assuredly unethical at least in motive.  

In her article about subliminal advertising and ethics NV says that there are psychologists who would like to see subliminal messaging converted into useable tools for marketing purposes (NV, 2007).  There is no denying that this could be a lucrative partnership however NV brings up a good point stating that this could be used “to alter behavior against consumers’ conscious wishes” (2007).  That would certainly be unethical in both motive and function as it negates our freedom of choice.

“Who’s Minding the Mind”, an article from the New York Times in 2007, talks extensively about what role the subconscious mind has in our decision making and how simple it may be to manipulate.  For better or worse, this part of our brain “is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known” (Carey, 2007).  Psychology professors at Yale state that “we have these unconscious behavioral guidance systems that are continually furnishing suggestions through the day about what to do next, and the brain is considering and often acting on those, all before conscious awareness” (Carey, 2007).   In light of the influence our subconscious mind has on our thoughts and, to a certain degree, actions, subliminal advertising appears to be akin to subliminal control.  This is a highly unethical practice because on some level the respondents are not even aware of the message to which they are responding.  Not only is it unethical, it just doesn't make sense.


Carey, B. (2007, July 31). Who's Minding the Mind? Retrieved September 20, 2012, from New York Times: Mental Health & Behavior:

NV. (2007, March 4). Subliminal Advertising: Psychology and Ethics. Retrieved September 19, 2012, from Psychology and Business:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Socially Responsible vs. Socially Acceptable

McDonald’s.  Just the name will make most of us salivate and chime “bah ta bah bah bah”.  For years now there has been some level of debate over the amount of influence that McDonald’s has over the American diet, especially the younger generations that have never lived in a time pre-big mac.  In her article, “Marketing to Children: Accepting Responsibility”, Gael O’Brien fiercely defends her stance on why marketing campaigns should not be allowed to target children and uses McDonald’s as a case study.  

Their marketing strategy is effective.  If it were not, their success would not be as grand.  Along with that comes some level of corporate social responsibility.  The question now is, are they doing the right thing by advertising to children?  The contributors to this article along with the author say no, “there is no ethical, moral, social, or spiritual justification for targeting children in advertising and marketing”.  I agree whole-heartedly with that statement.  

McDonald’s counters that by saying that it is the responsibility of the parent to choose what their child eats and they have the legal freedom to advertise their products as they see fit.  Again, this is also true.  Parents have to be aware of what they allow to come into their homes as far as television, radio, and internet are concerned.  This cannot be underscored enough, however big corporations should ethically be concerned about its products impact on the consumers, in this case the childhood obesity epidemic.  And if they do truly place all of the liability upon the parent for what is purchased and ultimately consumed, why then do they bother advertising to children at all if it is not their responsibility?  Why not advertise solely to the parent audience?  They see a weakness and are preying on that child’s limited discernment abilities and a parent’s desire to satisfy their child.  

Children are just not mentally equipped to make smart decisions about their health and nutrition.  These are habits they learn as they develop.  The media uses their naivety; as Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, states “they don’t understand persuasive intent until they are eight years old; and the brain’s capacity for judgment isn’t developed until their 20s which makes them very vulnerable as marketing targets”.  With that in mind, there is no true justification for targeting campaigns at children – or any limited capacity group for that matter.  
O’Brien opens by stating that “for all the significant achievements companies are making as corporate citizens, the issue of their real impact on society … raises the question of whether we are adequately defining what is expected by being socially responsible”.  I would like to propose another question, “are we adequately defining what is socially acceptable?”.  Some things do not have to be taken lying down.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ethical Dilemmas to Obvious Decisions

In the article “Ethics in Advertising”, Chris Moore tackles a few modern ethical dilemmas that face everyone from the advertisers to the consumers.  The topics that truly questioned my ethics were those from the Cause –related marketing and Condoms sections respectively.  Concerning the cause-related marketing Moore asks if “the extra business and good will these companies stand to gain compromise the good that the causes do? What are the ethics of enlightened self-interest?  To answer the first part, I would say no.  It does not compromise the good that the causes do.  I am looking at it from a simple perspective.  Of course from a more complex point of view the source or motivation behind the funds could taint the reputation of the organization receiving the money and in the long run affect future contributions.  While this holds some truth, if the organization is truly doing good then its supporters will continue to contribute and the manner in which said group uses the funds would not change, ergo allowing them to continue the aforementioned good.  For these reasons I believe that despite the source the causes and their good deeds should not be hindered, and if so, not in the long run. 
My response to the second question about the ethics of enlightened self-interest is that there are no ethics of enlightened self-interest.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines ethic as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation; a set of moral principles” ( The fact that we are using the word “self-interest” nullifies any opportunity for ethics to have a major role in our decision making. 
This is a business decision not an ethical decision.  In 2010 Cone Communications, an advertising agency, conducted a study on cause-marketing and found that 88% of Americans think that it is fine for companies to do this type of marketing and 85% say that their opinion or perception of a company or product is more positive when it champions a cause they personally support (  The consumer is asking for more knowledge of corporate affiliates and community work, ergo businesses would do well to make those affiliates and causes known.  There are those that would say it is shameful to brag about or advertise your charitable acts and kind deeds.  If we were talking about an individual I would agree.  A person with a large ego is annoying; a business with a large ego is advertising. 
The next question that Moore posed was “If you were the Creative Director on the Trojans account, is that[i] an ethical issue?  This is not an ethical issue in my opinion.  Here is why.  Although married persons may not be the largest segment of the population using Trojan condoms, they are a portion of the consumer population for this product therefore it is a true depiction of potential consumers.  Ads are not meant to be demographically representative of the population using a particular product.  They are meant to advertise the product accurately and honestly. 
It is honest to say that a married couple could use a condom.  We also have to think about who the product is targeting.  More than likely they are targeting adults in relationships that are stable enough to purchase these relatively expensive condoms.  With that in mind, most long term adult relationships typically take the form of marriage.  This should not pose an ethical issue for a Creative Director. 
There are shades of gray as Moore suggests in the beginning of the article in question.  The choices are never quite as black and white as they seem but (y)our ethics should be.  Clearly defined morals and limits are really what we need to identified on the part of the advertisers as well as the other groups involved in development and production.  These principles are what will shape your business practices and ultimately convert most ethical dilemmas into more obvious decisions.

[i] One example of context is that people in condom ads usually wear wedding rings. Because even though the biggest market probably lies outside the Marital Bed, the truth about where all those condoms are really going raises some touchy issues.