The Relationship Between Marketing and Ethics
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), advertisements have to be “truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based,” in order to be lawful. It’s important that advertisers let consumers know what it is they’re buying before they buy it, whether the product be a household item or a pharmaceutical. False advertisements of a vacuum cleaner, for instance, may be a great inconvenience and waste of money, but falsely advertising a high blood pressure medication could physically harm someone. Additionally, precautions must be made in advertisements in vulnerable groups such as children and teens. Therefore, there is a set of laws and regulations in place for advertisers to adhere.
In 2011, The American Advertising Federation (AAF), along with the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and the Missouri School of Journalism, established the Institute of Advertising Ethics (IAE). The IAE lays out eight principles of ethics in advertising.
First, all marketing communications share a responsibility of truth that must serve the public. Ethics must be pronounced in order to gain and maintain the trust of consumers.
Similarly, the second principle states, “all marketing communications professionals have an obligation to exercise the highest personal ethics in the creation and dissemination of commercial information to consumers.”
There should be a clear distinction between marketing and editorial content. For examples, consumers should be made aware whether or not a column in a magazine is a paid advertisement or not. In the digital realm, brand ambassadors (such as popular YouTube personalities) must disclose whether or not a product was sent to them to try for free, in order to remain ethical. In this way, a viewer can be mindful of the endorsement and how much stock they put into the person’s opinion.
This principle directly ties into the fourth, “Advertisers should clearly disclose all material conditions, such as payment or receipt of a free product, affecting endorsements in social and traditional channels, as well as the identity of endorsers, all in the interest of full disclosure and transparency.”
Principle Five of the IAE document tackles advertising to children. It describes children as “especially vulnerable”; therefore, extra measures should be taken so they know what they’re seeing is an advertisement. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) found that some print ads and TV commercials, with children as the target audience, are structured as editorials and newscasts – this is considered unethical.
Advertisers should always prioritize consumer privacy. Prompts to disclose information should be transparent to the consumer, and they should have the decision to opt-out. Consumer privacy should never, under any circumstance, be compromised.
Federal, state, and local advertising laws should always be reviewed and adhered prior to and during a marketing campaign. There are also self-regulatory programs (such as the AAF and IAE) to be considered.
Finally, not only should potential ethical concerns be discussed within the agency, but all members of the team should be free to start the conversation on an internal scale.
Advertising is more than just selling a product or service. Keeping in mind that most products on the market directly correlate to a person’s overall well-being, marketers are responsible for honest communication to the public. Anyone who would like to read the full IAE document, may do so here http://www.aaf.org/_PDF/AAF%20Website%20Content/513_Ethics/IAE_Principles_Practices.pdf