Need for Ethics in Advertising


“Julia Roberts is beautiful, her skin looks so perfect, and oh she’s wearing Lancôme Teint Miracle in this ad? I HAVE to try it.” That sums up the typical thought process that goes through my head when I look at new cosmetic product ads. It’s sad to say that after doing research and listening to class discussions on unethical advertising that I no longer think that way. My thought process now sounds more like, “I wonder how much they Photoshopped her face in this ad, is she even wearing Lancôme Teint Miracle? I wonder how many other products her stylists put on her face for this picture.” This ad among a few others sparked the United States and International Advertising Regulators to move towards banning photoshop in ads that can mislead a consumer. You would think advertising professionals were ethical enough not to do something like this but lately ethics have been sacrificed for financial gains in the advertising world.

It’s upsetting that consumers can’t rely on ads to be a trustworthy source of information when deciding to buy a product. Shouldn’t that be the purpose of advertising? Indecisive consumers everywhere would be thrilled if advertising professionals decided to abide by the Kantian ethical theory in their everyday work. In this day and age this concept is almost impossible to instil into the heads of creative professionals but what if? What if advertising professionals had ideas for ads that were sprung from nothing else but good will? Meaning their primary goal would be to tell the truth about a product to consumers, giving them all information necessary to make an educated and wise buying decision without somehow enhancing a product to seem more than it really is? That would make our lives as the consumer so much easier when we are deciding which products to buy.

The concept of being an ethical advertising professional by telling the truth about a product and not exaggerating its features in ads seems like it would be easy, but what if you have a client pressuring you to do so? Clients rely on their advertising team to increase product awareness/ desire therefore producing sales that ultimately the fate of that company seems to be put in their creative little hands.  This is where the choice to be ethical is decided, do you choose to be ethical and tell the full about the product in your ad or do you choose to deceive the public while making your client happy?  Typically, the answer is deceiving the public by creating an amazing ad that makes your client happy, you happy and your boss happy. Not to mention that if you piss off your client, your firm can get fired and if that happens then potentially you can get fired if your superior sees it as a huge loss to the company.

Not to sound dramatic but if advertising doesn’t start acting in a more ethical manner, the profession will take a turn for the worst and shrink drastically in a few years. In my opinion, why does it seem like a good business decision to pay an extraordinary amount of money for an ad that people interpret as lies when you can encourage personal recommendations from loyal customers? According to Forrester Research, 70% of consumers trust brand/product recommendations from friends/family while only 10% trust advertising. That can’t be something an advertising professional likes to hear and it’s certainly not something consumers like to see either. An infographic made from Forrester’s study by analyst Tracy Stokes shows that consumers trust reviews by literally anyone before any kind of advertising.


If advertising acted in a more ethical matter with regards to the content of their ads, the profession would thrive. Photoshop has just got to go in general, yeah it’s a fun tool to use but enhancing a photograph or a person or a product to be something it’s not in order for it to be appealing to consumers makes no sense. If a cosmetic model needs Photoshop to look good while wearing your makeup you might want to rethink your makeup and if a car needs enhancements to seem cooler then maybe you should go back to the drawing board. Ethical advertising should be something that isn’t even discussed; the fact that untrue messages are disseminated to so many people on a daily basis is awful.

Being ethical in advertising should be a number 1 priority to all professionals in the field. The focus now should be to increase the number of people that trust advertising and the only way to do that is through clean, honest communication. It’s going to take work and time but it all starts with the generation of students now who are learning about how the lying, enhancing and manipulating can actually hurt the overall profession. Changing how the public feels about advertising is essential and it all boils down to working in an ethical fashion.


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