The first purpose of business is most times making money; if at the beginnings of capitalism one could employ any tactic to achieve high profits, in the last decades things have changed and businesses are also conjured to do the right thing. Business ethics is one of the most complicated subjects in today’s society and those who keep a close eye on corporations and smaller enterprises alike are always finding irregularities and inconsistencies in businesses’ conduct. One of the areas where businesses need to maintain an ethical behavior is advertising, and over time theoreticians have formulated a number of ethical principles to be followed when promoting a product or service by using paid announcements, such as these principles disseminated by the American Advertising Federation:
1. Advertisers need to have as an objective telling the truth
Under no circumstances are advertisers and businesses allowed to spread false information using promotional messages. Professionals in the field need to serve the public by following high ethical standards. One with a high moral standing should always say the truth, but being honest in advertising is vital because this type of messages are very important to consumers. These days, people value honest and ethical advertising and no longer accept to be misled by false statements. Moreover, honest advertising is one of the most important assets of an ethical company.
2. Exercising the highest personal ethics
Advertisers should take responsibility for the messages they disseminate and believe in what they do. Ethics issues have been included in the performance evaluations of many companies and those who work in the field are expected to be truthful in every message they create and submit to audiences.
3. Making the difference between advertising and editorial content/entertainment
The line between commercial communication and news, editorial, and entertainment can be quite blurred sometimes. In the latter, one can express subjective points of view, while commercial communication such as advertising should always reflect objective facts. Furthermore, businesses are not allowed to hide advertising messages under the appearance of editorial and entertainment content unless they clearly announce the public they have done so.
4. Being transparent about endorsers
Endorsers are well-known people or celebrities who use their fame and social status to help promote a product or a service. Businesses need to be transparent about the conditions involved in creating online endorsements, such as using bloggers or social media. Audiences should be able to tell if the endorser is supporting the brand of oneself or if they are being compensated with money or free products. Ethics codes that cover this principle have been developed by organizations such as WOMMA (The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association).
5. Treating consumers fairly based on the nature of audience and of the product/service advertised
This principle applies mainly to advertising for children, who don’t have the cognitive skills needed to assess the credibility of advertising. An initiative aimed at advertising to children in an ethical manner is The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative which was launched in 2006 with ten participating companies with the aim of providing products and services that encourage a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating.
6. Letting audiences know if they will provide their information to businesses
Advertising has become more effective and less intrusive by being aimed at consumers who are interested in the products and services it promotes. However, the condition to achieve this is to collect data from consumers using their computers. Advertisers are not allowed to use such data without having consumers’ permission; businesses should never infringe on audiences’ personal privacy and let people know when personal information is being collected and used for advertising purposes.
7. Following federal, state, and local advertising laws
Aside from being compliant with industry regulations, businesses are also expected to collaborate with industry self-regulatory organizations in order to ensure the ethics of their advertising practices. One of these rules is that ads cannot omit “material facts” or use information that makes the ad false and misleading.
8. Discussing ethical concerns and allowing creative teams to express ethical concerns
Advertising ethics can only be enhanced by educating professionals and giving them the chance to speak up when they sense something wrong. Every professional in the advertising team should exercise the highest ethical standards and do their best to meet this expectation before messages reach consumers. The main idea that advertisers should focus on is doing what is best for the consumer – this way, advertisers and business owners are also doing what’s best for themselves and for their company. Every person involved in an advertising team should be able to speak their conscience without feeling threatened or in danger and without needing to ask for permission.
These advertising principles should make any business a highly ethical practice. In today’s competitive advertising world, the 8 principles described below are not easy to follow, but without adhering to them, companies are affected by multiple negative consequences on the long term.