Today, advertisements have turned out to become “an authority in society”. Advertisements tell consumers many things. They show us how to have an image for a model; to but something, use it, and then buy something else to substitute it with. Consumers also learn from advertisements that they can purchase success, happiness and love when buying the goods and services being advertised. So now, advertisements have the responsibility of educating consumers and being part of their family (Gün F.,1999, 53-62). Due to this role that advertisements have developed in our society, ethical examination has emerged.
Understanding of Morals and Ethics
Morals and ethics are similarly alike when it comes to their theory and practice. Ethics refers to the right action and the one which conveys more good, whereas morals specify carrying out these right actions. Going against ethical principles would be indicating “immoral” behavior (Wikipedia Website).
According to William Frankena (1973), ethics are a group of moral principles aimed at improving the safety and welfare of the society. He summarized these principles to “beneficence” – transmitting good and “justice” – being reasonable. Moreover, philosopher Geoffrey Warnock (1971), indicates four standards which that are seem to be suitable for advertising; beneficence, non-malfeasance – no damaging, no dishonesty, and no prejudice (Zinkhan, 1994).
It is the job of advertisers and their agencies to take numerous decisions concerning morals. A way to recognize the ethics of advertising is to categorize the advertising practices, for example subliminal advertising, that have destructive consequences for the public. These practices make it harder for people to choose between the groups of morals. These moral decisions are made easier for consumers when they use ways such as their individual conscience, the strategy of the company, standards of the industry, rules or regulations by the government, and even their own religion. In the United States , the Federal Trade Commission is the main regulatory body that is in charge of investigating topics concerned with justice and equality in advertising (Zinkhan, 1994).
Ethics in Advertisements
The results of a questionnaire conducted in a report by Hyman et al. which included members of the American Academy of Advertising members show that the vital matters concerned with advertising ethics were as follows: 1) dishonest in advertisements, 2) advertising to the children, 3) advertising of tobacco, 4) advertisements of alcoholic beverages, 5) unconstructive political advertising, 6) ethnic stereotyping, and 7) sexual stereotyping (Zinkhan, 2006).
Throughout the last several years, the concern of management to enhance the ethical quality of the choices made by the business has increased. The question is why have managers let unethical business actions to weaken relations between the consumers, suppliers, and employees? A reason for not allowing ethical principles to act in the decision making of management and marketers is due to the deficiency of the perspective they have of how consumers obtain and why they prefer specific moral values. Nearly everyone believes that a group of moral philosophies must manage the work of marketing decision-makers. Furthermore, the majority of marketers believe that their choice must be done according to right and wrong values (Weaver and Ferrell 1977; Zinkhan 1994).
It should be understood that consumers, are “limited information processors” and usually make choices by discriminating between certain information (Hogarth 1987; Zinkhan 1994).
Moral power participates greatly in the recognition of a moral matter involving a consumer, thus affecting his or her ruling, goal, as well as action when it comes to do with the “right or wrong” decision making process. In addition, when consumers are in this process, it is most probable that the consumer will pursue an action, a buying behavior, which is steady with their ethical views (depending on the moral intesnsity of the decision) (Izzo, 1997).
Deceptive and Misleading Advertising
Looking at this concept in a theoretical understanding, deception or dishonesty is present when an advertisement is misleading, or when a consumer could be hurt or injured because he or she would have chosen a different product, service or brand if there was no deception or dishonesty present (Balkas, 2006).
Creativity vs. Ethics
At the present time, the types of consumers and their behaviors are changing rapidly resulting in the increase of creativity in advertising. Now it is believed that in order to be unique, and to get to the consumers whom are being targeted, businesses need to create messages using a high level of creativity. This leads to an essential dilemma that is faced in advertising: “how ethical can creative advertisements be?”. A study by Elif E. Balkas (2006) examined this problem. The results proved that creativity, in order as not to be the same in different advertisements, does lead to unethical behaviors, such as practices in Billboards. Using good-looking women/men (sex appeal), ambiguous or unreliable messages, unethical language style (such as slang) and unfair competition are all examples of unethical behaviors. Unethical actions are made illegal by the Act 4077 to look after consumers, IAS (International Advertising Self-Regulation System, EASA) (Balkas, 2006).
Application: Marlboro Man
One of the most popular advertising images was developed by Philip Morris Inc. in the beginning of the 1960s. This advertising image was a picture of a jagged, brave-looking cowboy, the Marlboro Man, riding a horse and smoking a cigarette. The setting was on the mountains making this advertisement the promoting Marlboro cigarettes around the world. The Marlboro Man was portrayed by actor David McLean, whose cause of death was lung cancer. In other words, cigarettes were the Marlboro Man's cause of death.
David's wife, Plaintiffs Lilo Mclean filed for charges against the company Marlboro. She believes cigarettes are the reason for the death of her husband due to the fact that he had to smoke as much as five packs of cigarettes per day while the advertisements or the posters were being printed. In the legal complaint filed by Plaintiffs, she claims to be searching for “damages for wrongful death and personal injuries to David McLean based on common law theories of fraud and deceit, negligent misrepresentation, misrepresentation to consumers, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty”.
As a conclusion, it is important to acknowledge that ethics is a field that needs each consumer to take a stand. As previously mentioned, cigarettes killed the Marlboro Man, when he himself was promoting the product itself. Each and every consumer should not only choose between what is right and what is wrong but be able to rationalize when making choices concerning brands, products, or services.