The influence of advertising has boomed in recent years with the growth of social media. Digital Marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. Of course, most people won’t actually agree seeing 10,000 messages. This is because, in order to keep our sanity, we’ve developed a screening process to ignore most advertising messages. Less than 100 of them make it past our “attention wall” each day. This is why the advertisers must find a way to create ads that are creative, memorable, and engaging so that they will even be realized by the customer. When they try to do this a lot of companies create ads that are very questionable in terms of ethics. For example, ads that target children with products they are not even allowed to buy yet like cigarettes and alcohol. Or nudity in advertising is also one example. The question is what is acceptable and what is unacceptable? What is an ethical ad and what’s and unethical ad?
This question is not that easy to answer because there are different opinions in this case. People have different perspectives of what is ethics and what they think is ok to use and what not. In my opinion an ad is ethical when it does not lie, does not use any fake or false claims and when it is in the limit of decency. I think the advertisers have a wide range to use different things and techniques to get the customers attention. They do not need to lie or use anything else that is unethical.
I would say most of the advertising these days are in the scope of being ethical but there are still some ads that I think are not good and unethical. Especially ads that target children with products they are not allowed to use. In terms of children this topic gets even more important because advertising has an even bigger influence on children while they are growing up. This is also the reason why advertisers target children because they want to make them use the product into adulthood.
In addition to that, research has shown that preschool children cannot differentiate between commercials and programs, do not realize the selling intent of commercials and cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. This means the children are not old enough to get the right understanding of what the advertising means and wants. So, the advertisers take advantage of that.
In my opinion this is what I would call unethical. I think children should be protected against advertising that is not appropriate for them. For adults I think the bar for an advertising to be called unethical is very high. A lot of things are allowed and ok to use because the people who do not want to see the advertising do not have to watch it.
But at this point is gets a little complicated. How can a company for example Abercrombie and Fitch make sure their ads do only reach and are only seen by adults if they use nudity?! The answer is they can’t, and this is also the reason why I would say that a lot of ads are ethical when they can only be seen by adults but as soon as they cannot make sure the ad is only being seen by adults the ad gets unethical because it could be seen by children.
As you can see this whole topic is not that easy and there are a lot of different opinions on that. But there are the “American Advertising Federation Principles and Practices for Advertising Ethics” where I would say if an advertiser sticks to those I think the ad will be ethical.