Advertising & Consumer Sovereignty
Advertising in the modern day has developed alongside the advent of business ethics as a scholarly and academic practice. As the ethical environment of business has seen a surge in study and discipline, advertising has undergone even more intense scrutiny and discussion. Though advertising and criticism is no new marriage as it has been under the microscope since its takeoff in the 1930s, developments in both approach by advertisers and its critiques has lead to an even heavier discussion than before. The focal point of this critique revolves around the notion of consumer sovereignty and how it theoretically has been altered by the ad. The aim of this paper is to address this very subject and propose that consumer sovereignty remains relatively untarnished by advertising. This paper will broach the subject by introducing the definition of advertising in the contemporary context, the general issues and criticisms of it, the more focused discussion concerning consumer sovereignty, as well as several mini case studies. Such arguments become critical in today’s market as advertising seeks even more complex and clever ways to gain attention of the consumer, furthering the arguments against it. The mention of said consumer also warrants a disclaimer for purposes of these arguments. It should be noted that here, the “consumer” is understood to be somewhat intellectual, rational, logical, and most importantly is able to exercise both the mental capacity and social freedom to make choices in the market. Without this understanding of the basic “consumer,” outliers in the consumer population will sway arguments to the extreme and discredit both sides. It is the understanding that the whole ethical framework of human life is our awareness that people ordinarily can choose.
Advertising is understood to be a form of communication to persuade a consumer. It stems from the need for a supplier/sender to call attention to their (products or services) availability for sale. Simply put, advertising is a promotion for goods and services. How these advertisements take shape varies greatly, especially in the dawn of the high tech where Internet advertisements have become main place, and often not more of an annoyance to the consumer than anything. Advertising itself is fundamental in the operations of a business or organization to draw the needed attention from its consumer or receiver base. One would simply sit in the dark without some form of advertising. Furthermore, there is the case of the non-commercial advertisers that seek to promote items other than consumer goods. This may be promotion for a political party, public service announcement, religious organizations, or government agencies. Advertising has spread across mediums from the tangible to the digital, constantly evolving to match a shift in consumer taste and demand. The goal of the advertiser is not only call attention to their product or service, but to further enhance the image of a product or service. Advertising is also not a one sided coin. It creates “mutually beneficial exchanges” that benefit both consumer and producer. Beyond the basics of advertising benefiting the produces by drawing attention to their product or service, the consumer also gains from this form of communication. An advertisement may directly capture someone’s wants and desires, or inform about a subject. They also help pay for services and or goods that the end user would have to pay a higher premium for, or not pay at all.
The kind of information sent over the channel of advertising varies greatly as well. A large majority of advertises provide little direct information about the goods advertised. Instead, the information indirectly signals the quality of goods advertised. Some may take it further however, and provide essentially no information. Rather, they entertain, create favorable associations between sexual allure and...
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