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. 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...
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