Ethics and Social Responsbility in Advertising

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Ethics and social responsibility can be seen as the moral obligation of advertisers not to violate our basic economic assumptions even when there is no legal obligation. (2570 words)

Violating our basic economic assumptions happens in advertising everyday and consumers are well aware of it but it doesn’t mean they are not influenced by it. This essay focuses on the reasons why some companies have chosen to improve ethics and social responsibility to further improve its image as a reputable company, and perhaps another way of building brand image to be taken seriously in society and for advertising efforts to be accepted in better regard in such a competitive market.

First we will look at the different kinds of advertising (its intentions). Then we’ll move onto how advertising can be deceptive and manipulative and the effects of advertising on our value system. Which then brings us back to ethical advertising and social responsibility becoming an important factor especially to bigger companies who can invest and benefit from long term advertising/CSR campaigns. We’ll also look at some examples and how CSR can benefit a company in the long run.

Lastly, we’ll look into the similarities between Advertising and CSR, and how both achieve results and can be seen as a tool to help achieve economic goals since both are created and built from society’s (consumers) deep emotional values. Could CSR be yet another ‘form’ of advertising, but just a more ethical one?

Advertising – the power of influence and persuasion

Kyle Bagwell (Economics of Advertising, 2001), divides advertising into two roles, which he calls a constructive role and a combative role. Where the first role is obvious in being constructive by providing information to consumers and the second role what he calls by ‘playing a socially wasteful combative role’. Bagwell carries on with the explanation that from the beginning of time, three views of advertising emerged. The persuasive view where, ‘advertising primarily affects demand by changing tastes and creating brand loyalty.’ The second informative view, where advertising ‘facilitates entry’ since it is an important means through which ‘entrants’ give price and quality information to consumers. Lastly the complementary view where advertising affects demand by serving as an input that makes the consumer gain some kind of ‘social prestige’ when the products is attained. Advertising in its different views is still considered persuasive nevertheless and it tries to attract the consumer by finding out the consumers desires – a ‘mimesis of reality’ owing to literary conventions that determines how it is able to resemble real life. (Stern B, Journal of Advertising, June 1994) Stern goes into further explain that this ‘real life’ imitation, either gained from researching small target groups and getting feedback from key members in advertising (directors etc.) to reflect that of the audience persona. This is activated in a variety of forms; drama, narration, autobiography and/or even through that catchy tune (musical). Stern continues that one of the most important decisions made in a message is the kind of persona to use for messages to articulate whatever persona type is deemed most effective to influence the audience.

Advertisers have studied our personas and as Arens points out many of our wants are emotional, social or psychological rather than functional so therefore easy to build it’s influencing capabilities on as advertising offers people the opportunity to satisfy those psychic or symbolic wants and needs (Arens, Advertising Perspectives ,2006) A lot of the time, this persona type articulated through the different variety of genres is often exaggerated. Aren further discussed the Ethical Issues in Advertising and points out that people associate advertising with the term ‘puffery’. Deception in advertising is illegal, however the meaning of ‘puffery’ skirts around the term ‘to exaggerate’ and...
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