In order to attract clients, increase sales, and, thus, make their business more profitable, manufacturers and entrepreneurs intensively promote their goods on the Internet, television, in newspapers, magazines, and other means of the mass media. Words, sounds, images, and mottos created by the mass media surround and accompany people everywhere. Therefore, they make a huge impact on humans’ preferences, creeds, beliefs, views, and perceptions of surroundings. However, advertising a company, person, brand, product, service, or commodity, media practitioners frequently violent or even ignore ethical norms “as they aggressively compete with anyone who dares to get in their way” (Perebinossoff 2008).
Advertising is one of the basic marketing communication models, which is utilised by marketers and entrepreneurs to communicate specifically designed messages to their potential customers and other stakeholders. “Advertising is any paid form of nonpersonal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor” (Kotler 2006). Being identified according to results of a thorough analysis and comprehensive assessment of the current marketing situation, the main objectives of advertising are to inform, persuade, reinforce messages, and/or remind customers of business and organizational offerings, such as products or services (Kotler 2006; Perebinossoff 2008; Ogden & Rarick 2010). Kotler distinguishes such qualities of advertising as pervasiveness, amplified expressiveness, and impersonality. Informing potential consumers on benefits of products, services, brands, etc., advertisers influence interests and inquiries of the target audience. Advertising agencies and communication companies utilise diverse techniques in order to enhance brand recognition, attract more consumers, increase demands and sales, and, thus, improve effectiveness of a business unit.
Advertising is an influential means of communication. All forms and models of advertising are inextricably linked with ethics and public consciousness due to their indisputable impacts on humans’ morals, preferences, views, and beliefs. Therefore, advertising in print media, on the radio, television, and the Internet is statutorily regulated and controlled by empowered official organisations and executive bodies worldwide. Contents, promulgated ideas, popularised views, slogans, images, and behavioural patterns should correspond to ethical principles of truthfulness, fairness, objectivity, accuracy, decency, correctness, impartiality, and public accountability. Ethical activities do not harm individuals. In order to evaluate correlations between advertising and ethics, everyone involved in marketing and advertising should possess accurate understanding of ethical norms and values. Approaches to establish equilibrium between ethical and unethical advertising should take into considerations diverse beliefs, creeds, principles, and views of everyone involved in the process of communication. Ethics is the branch of philosophy interconnected with moral principles. Morality is defined as the quality of practicing the right conduct (Schafer 2011).
Ethics is a complex subject that interlaces the idea of responsibilities to society with a wide range of considerations relevant to the character and happiness of the individual. It concerns virtues of compassion, loyalty, and strength, but also of confidence, imagination, humour, and optimism. (Russell 2010)
All professionals involved in the advertising industry should adhere to social and legal norms developed by public policy makers. In order to educate socially responsible advertisers, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism
and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) evaluates, defines, and supervises educational programs of professional journalism and mass communications (Ogden & Rarick 2010). However, although governmental and non-profit organisations such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Associated Press Media Editors Organization (APMEO), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Advertising Investigation Department (AID), and others design regulatory recommendations concerning issues of advertising in the USA, the United Kingdom, and other countries, ethical norms are frequently violated.
Ethics scandals and allegations emerge in many spheres and areas, reinforcing the needs for ethics to be studied seriously. Scandalous advertising is often more effective and leads to more profitable results than any other. Chocking the audience, unusual or even indecent messages unavoidably catch people’s attention. Challenging advertisements trigger wide discussions, cause an increase in responses, and, thus, promotes distribution of advertised goods or services. Moreover, if an advertising campaign does not have great resonance, it is considered to be failed. Nobody remembers ordinary and emotionally neutral messages.
Although Adolf Hitler is always associated with cruelty, genocide, fascism, violence, and antihumanism, his image has been widely exploited by media practitioners over the last decades. “Cynical marketers are using the Nazi leader's likeness to stir up a craving for everything from pizza to herbal tea” (“The Week” 2010). Hitler’s image was used by New Form, an Italian fashion brand, to promote their new clothing line in 2010; facilitating sales of James Dean’s movies, CNA, a South African entertainment store combined faces of James Dean and Adolf Hitler into a single portrait in 2009; an image of Hitler “wearing nothing but a Swastika armband” was used by a Belgian TV travel show in 2008; Hell Pizza, a restaurant chain in New Zealand, depicted Hitler with a slice of pizza on their billboards in 2007 (“The Week” 2010). Hitler’s image was used to promote tea, shampoo, wine, deodorants, razor blades, hats, and many other commodities and goods. However, these advertisements were perceived as humiliating and offensive by the Jews and induced numerous protests and complaints. According to ethical standards, advertising should provide consumers with psychological comfort and acceptable communication; utilisation of Hitler’s images in advertisements can be identified as impolite, tactless, and uncivil in relation to the Jews and descendants of victims of fascists.
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Advertisers should take into consideration “the use of graphic violence in TV dramas, in local TV news programs, in ads, and in rap recordings; it also surfaces in other aspects of media content” (Turow 2009). Following the principles of ethics, advertising activities must not induce cruelty and violence. Communication messages must not include obscene and offensive images, comparisons, and expressions concerning a language, gender, race, nationality, origin, age, incomes, and a social status of a person. Nevertheless, advertisements for supplements, sport footwear and apparel, and exercise devices often include images of violent and aggressive fighters. Therefore, such ads can lead to positive attitude to violence, aggression, and other manifestations of unethical behaviour. In addition, sport advertising is a specific niche of marketing involving diverse discussable characteristics.
Although the mass media often include unjustified information and data, they are an extremely powerful source for forming values, beliefs, views and organizing worldwide. Popularizing sports and a healthy way of life, the mass media mainly emphasize the financial side of sports and salaries of professional athletes. However, incomes of professional sportsmen directly depend on a great deal of factors such as their personal abilities, achievements, professionalism, commitment, persistence, etc. Profitability of contracts with athletes is influenced by levels of their skills, personal characteristics, and results. Achievements, private life, sports activity, and rewards of well-known sportsmen are the objects of constant and special attention of the mass media and millions of fans. Sport is a unique social phenomenon, which is associated with occurrence, development, promotion, distribution, and implementation of physical culture and activity. Sport is always accompanied with such displays and driving forces of humans’ behaviour as competitiveness, comparison, motivation, satisfaction with results and rewards, estimation and re-evaluation of personal standards, norms, and values, communication, and interactions between athletes. In order to gain popularity and public recognition, an image of a sportsman should correspond to social morals and principles. Therefore, it is necessary to place more emphasis on heavy and laborious work of athletes, showing that each sport victory, achievement, and sport medal is a result of long and laborious work of a sportsman, a coach, a team, and a service staff.
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Design of labels is an integral part of food advertising. In order to attract clients, increase sales, and, thus, make their goods more profitable, manufacturers supply their products with catchy labels and bright packages. Today, labels have become one of the key components of effective marketing strategies. However, the primary purposes of food labels are to inform each consumer about specific components of a product and assess how ingredients can influence his/her health conditions in order to avoid harmful effects of diverse substances. The basic principle of the food industry is to maintain highly efficient production of inexpensive goods that are conveniently available for consumers. Inappropriate design of food labels significantly reduces consumers’ perception of specific food components and, thus, makes a negative impact on their choices. Therefore, in accordance with ethical principles, food labels should include reliable data concerning substances and ingredients of a product; consumers should be completely aware of risks connected with intake of food with enormous content of sodium, fats, oils, and sugars.
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Ethical norms are violated by extremely promising slogans, quackery words, and attractive images used in ads for supplements and nutrients, which are perceived by consumers as persuasive and even evidence-based pieces of information. However, consumers should precisely examine reliability of any nutrition product and its curative properties in order to avoid adverse effects and possible complications. According to the Federal Trade Commission Act, all advertisements must be truthful and non-deceptive (FTC 2001). “By law, advertisers must have solid evidence for health claims before they run an ad” (FTC 2006). Therefore, all the claims of advertisements must be based on results of reliable surveys and include scientifically justified references.
To conclude, ethical principles must be an obligatory grounding of advertising. Creative, intelligent, well educated, and responsible advertisers are irreplaceable guarantors of legal, decent, honest, evidence-based, safe, and truthful adverts.
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In order to prevent violations of ethical principles, honor codes of media practitioners and advertisers should be developed. An honor code is a set of obligatory regulations identified for all professionals involved in advertising. Designed by empowered officials and appraised by all stakeholders, honor codes should define advertisers’ responsibility for ethics infringements, such as false representations of goods and their properties, deception, injustice, offence, adulteration, derogation, and sabotage. An honor code should be aimed at the development of ethics and high moral standards. Ethical criteria of adverts should be indispensably applied; appropriate punishments and penalties should be specified for each infringement.