Ethics in Advertising Essay

Ethics in advertising to most sounds like the definition for irony. However, the practice of truthful advertising is commonplace in today’s society. Advertisers are held accountable for the messages they produce. So too are the manufacturers, whom are held accountable for their products meeting the standards set forth by the advertisement. For the most part this is a self-regulated practice. Once an advertised product is called out for not living up to expectation, recovery of reputation and overall positive brand imaging are rarely had.

The added fear of civil lawsuits pertaining to deceptive advertising coupled with penal laws which prohibit such dishonest acts, make for an industry centered on truthful intent. The Federal Trade Commission is the governing authority against “unfair and deceptive acts or practices in commerce”. Meaning false or misleading information in advertising media is punishable by judicial law. There seems to be a fine line as to what is unlawful in terms of “false” advertising. The act of being deceptive is not the same as producing deception.

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Wikipedia states illegal deception as, “the potential to deceive, which is interpreted to occur when consumers see the advertising to stating to them, explicitly or implicitly, a claim that may not realize is false or material. The latter means that the claim, if relied on for making a purchasing decision, is likely to be harmful by adversely affecting that decision. ” Recently the F. T. C. exercised their authoritative power against the tobacco industry through their use of previously undefined terms such as “low tar”, “lights”, “ultra-lights” used on cigarette packaging.

The terms were used to mistakenly identify varying levels of additives such as nicotine or tar for which no variance actually exist. All cigarettes contain the same basic levels of such. The difference between “lights” vs. “ultra-lights” for example, is the cigarette’s filter which vary in size and/or viscosity. I think this is yet another example of a government agency ‘nickel and dime-ing’ an the already overly scrutinized industry. The F. D. A. and Surgeon General also regulate advertising practice. The “Nutrition Facts” label on the food we buy is an example of their work so to is the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packaging.

This practice is referred to as Truth in Labeling. Essentially the concept of conveying the customer’s right to know what they are buying and the necessary information that must be clearly stated on the product label. I personally feel that we’ve reached a level of governmental intervention seen only in fascist regimes in regard to regulations on marketing communications. Give the consumer a little more credit in knowing what he or she chooses to buy and the risks said purchase may or may not entail. The first amendment right to free speech seems to have eluded the seller.

I was quite shocked to find that the United States was not the front runner for obnoxious health warnings on product packaging. Our neighbors to the North, Canada have far stricter regulations on cigarettes. In June 2000, the Federal Tobacco Products Information Regulations was passed requiring all cigarette packages to display health warning messages that take up at least fifty percent of the main display surface of the package. The warnings must include graphic images and text of vulgar description regarding the risks of product usage.

Here is an example (see figures a-f). I think it is safe to assume that the Canadian warning label’s graphic and unsettling content could have a lot to do with their nationally funded healthcare system. When the government must foot the bill for the affects of smoking on the individual consumer, the determent of said bad habit become far higher priority. The United States on the other hand has no such healthcare system. The terminally ill and chronically unhealthy are big business. Could this be why the warning labels differ so greatly from Canada to the U. S.?

The warning label is intended to inform the user about the risks associated with the use of the item as intended by the manufacturer or seller. More often than not however, it is the intention of the manufacturer or seller to eliminate the risk of lawsuits from civil liability issues. Every plastic bag has a warning against putting it over one’s head for risk of suffocation. Seemingly an obvious effect of plastic over the head still must be stated. In a not too distant future, when healthcare reform is had will national cigarette warnings remain the same? The ethical issues of advertising include the marketing of unhealthy products.

The most obvious example would be cigarettes. The tobacco industry was banned from broadcast media long ago and in 1998 most other forms of tobacco advertising were eliminated. Smoker’s still smoke and elimination of that fact remains unscathed. The media machine is over-saturated with anti-smoking campaigns. As if it were the only negatively influential product out on the market. The irony of it all! Many products like prescription drugs, alcohol and fatty foods outweigh the adverse health affects of smoking. Why is the tobacco industry so vilified and heavily regulated? Coca-cola is a staple of American culture.

An icon of society. The marketing innovators of whom set the standard in successful advertising. Advertisers focus on selling a brand image not just the product from the brand. The best advertising campaigns to date come from soda pop manufacturers. The unadvertised truth of the product is that it is potentially lethal. Carbonated soft drinks are host to a range of potentially dangerous risks to your health. This is due to the high amounts of sugar, calories and harmful additives of which contain no nutritional value. Studies have proven that soda can lead to osteoporosis, obesity, heart disease and tooth decay.

Soft drinks aggressively erode teeth enamel as found in laboratory tests conducted and published by the journal of General Dentistry. As is evidenced in the picture to the right of the ravaged mouth of a frequent pop-drinker. Yet soda sales account for more than one-quarter of total beverages consumed in the United States! Do we simply not know of the side effects associated with our beloved soda pop? Is this an example of a product in dire need of warning labels and smear tactics? Perhaps stating more clearly the ingredients and their affects on the body will guide consumers towards healthier options.

The ingredient information for a can of soda would have to read something like this; Phosphoric Acid: May interfere with the body’s ability to use calcium, which can lead to osteoporosis or softening of the teeth and bones. Phosphoric acid also neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which can interfere with digestion, making it difficult to utilize nutrients. Sugar: Soft drink manufacturers are the largest single user of refined sugar in the United States. It is a proven fact that sugar increases insulin levels, which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, premature aging and many ore negative side effects. Most sodas include over 100 percent of the RDA of sugar. Aspartame: This chemical is used as a sugar substitute in diet soda. There are over 92 different health side effects associated with aspartame consumption including brain tumors, birth defects, diabetes, emotional disorders and epilepsy/seizures. Further, when aspartame is stored for long periods of time or kept in warm areas it changes to methanol, an alcohol that converts to formaldehyde and formic acid, which are known carcinogens.

Caffeine: Caffeinated drinks can cause jitters, insomnia, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, elevated blood cholesterol levels, vitamin and mineral depletion, breast lumps, birth defects, and perhaps some forms of cancer. Here is an excerpt from www. oledm. com that perfectly illustrates the issue at hand, “Teenagers and children, who many soft drinks are marketed toward, are among the largest consumers. In the past 10 years, soft drink consumption among children has almost doubled in the United States.

Teenage boys now drink, on average, three or more cans of soda per day, and 10 percent drink seven or more cans a day. The average for teenage girls is more than two cans a day, and 10 percent drink more than five cans a day. It also raises the question of how one determines a product’s caffeine content. Nutrition labels are not required to divulge that information. If a beverage contains caffeine, it must be included in the ingredient list, but there’s no way to tell how much a beverage has, and there’s little logic or predictability to the way caffeine is deployed throughout a product line.

Okay, so most enlightened consumers already know that colas contain a fair amount of caffeine. It turns out to be 35 to 38 milligrams per 12-ounce can, or roughly 28 percent of the amount found in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. But few know that diet colas — usually chosen by those who are trying to dodge calories and/or sugar — often pack a lot more caffeine. A 12-ounce can of Diet Coke, for example, has about 42 milligrams of caffeine — seven more than the same amount of Coke Classic. A can of Pepsi One has about 56 milligrams of caffeine — 18 milligrams more than both regular Pepsi and Diet Pepsi.

Even harder to figure out is the caffeine distribution in other flavors of soda pop. Many brands of root beer contain no caffeine. An exception is Barq’s, made by the Coca-Cola Co. , which has 23 milligrams per 12-ounce can. Sprite, 7-Up and ginger ale are caffeine-free. But Mountain Dew, the curiously named Mello Yellow, Sun Drop Regular, Jolt and diet as well as regular Sunkist orange soda all pack caffeine. Caffeine occurs naturally in kola nuts, an ingredient of cola soft drinks. But why is this drug, which is known to create physical dependence, added to other soft drinks?

The industry line is that small amounts are added for taste, not for the drug’s power to sustain demand for the products that contain it. Caffeine’s bitter taste, they say, enhances other flavors. “It has been a part of almost every cola — and pepper-type beverage — since they were first formulated more than 100 years ago,” according to the National Soft Drink Association. But recent blind taste tests conducted by Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore found that only 8 percent of regular soft drink consumers could identify the difference between regular and caffeine-free soft drinks.

The study included only subjects who reported that they drank soft drinks mainly for their caffeine content. In other words, more than 90 percent of the self-diagnosed caffeine cravers in this small sample could not detect the presence of caffeine. That’s why the great popularity of caffeinated soft drinks is driven not so much by subtle taste effects as by the mood-altering and physical dependence of caffeine that drives the daily self-administration. And the unknown could be especially troublesome for the developing brains of children and adolescents.

Logic dictates that when you are dependent on a drug, you are really upsetting the normal balances of neurochemistry in the brain. The fact that kids have withdrawal signs and symptoms when the caffeine is stopped is a good indication that something has been profoundly disturbed in the brain. Exactly where that leads is anybody’s guess — which is to say there is little good research on the effects of caffeine on kids’ developing brains. Besides, to many researchers, the combination of rising obesity and bone weakening has the potential to synergistically undermine future health.

Adolescents and kids don’t think long-term. But what happens when these soft-drinking people become young or middle-aged adults and they have osteoporosis, sedentary living and obesity? By that time, switching to water, milk or fruit juice may be too little, too late. Research presented at an American Diabetes Association gathering this summer found that women who went from drinking less than one, non-diet soda a day to one or more daily sodas were nearly twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes over a four-year period as women who drank less than one soft during a day. The women who drank more soda also gained more weight over the same period. ) A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggested that fructose, a sweetener found naturally in fruit juice and typically used in concentrated amounts in soft drinks, may induce a hormonal response in the body that promotes weight gain. ” With all of the harmful risks associated with soft drinks why aren’t there warning labels or anti-soda campaigns or any other public awareness tactics in place? Tobacco use is bad for you, everyone knows that by now.

Very few American consumers know of the harm associated with their beloved iconic Coca-Cola but are bombarded with ads stating just the opposite. This Coke ad was popular in the 1930’s and doesn’t differ much from ads spawned today. Most scientists and health professionals agree that soda cans should carry mandatory warning labels. The act of doing so without regulatory bodies imposing them is unlikely. Although, recently a soda tax of a few pennies per liter sold has been initiated. It is the first step in leveling the harmful product awareness playing field.

I hope to someday live in a society where individual health concern’s are just that and without need for judicially imposed regulations. I don’t want to blindly consume products without adequate knowledge of the risks versus the benefits. But I assuredly don’t want to bombarded with hand-picked from product to product warnings about risks I knew prior to purchase. Let the consumer decide how and when they choose to weigh the consequences of a purchase from product categories I know are of less than healthful origin (i. e. junk food, cigarettes, etc. ). I am not suggesting doing away with warning labels I am merely attempting to persuade you the audience to the marketer’s ploy, to be aware of the products you consume on your own. Don’t allow societal preferences of potentially harmful goods be an excuse to consume them out of ignorance to the risks. Educate yourselves on all the products to which you indulge. You are what you eat and knowing what you eat is knowing who you are. In closing, the ethical issues regarding the advertising of unhealthy products are unfairly regulated.

The fact that cigarettes are harmful is well known, well publicized and well documented on every pack marked for sale. The equally adverse effect of soda pop is virtually unknown. No warning label required nor consumer awareness campaigning is had. The lesser of two evils shouldn’t be the standard in offering consumer health information. A basic practice like that in movie ratings should be imposed on all ingestible products. Example- carrots receive a G rating while cigarettes receive an R rating.

This would eliminate consumer confusion and make it easier for the industry to clearly practice truth in advertising. References Wikipedia. Ethics in Advertising. [Internet] MediaWiki version 1. 16. April 2010. Oledm. com. Health Issues:SODA KILLS. [Internet]May 2010. Google Image Search. Vintage Coca-Cola, Soda, Marlboro, Ethical Ads, Caffeine. [Internet] May 2010. Johar, Gita,”Intended and Unintended Effects of Corrective Advertising on Beliefs and Evaluations: An Exploratory Analysis”, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 1996, 5(3), 209-230. Richards, Jef I. , “Deceptive Advertising”, Earlbaum (1990) at p. 20.


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