Limitations of Advertising

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Limitations of Advertising

Analysis of an Ethical Dilemma

July 21, 2010

Limitations of Advertising: Analysis of an Ethical Dilemma

Marketing practices in the contemporary western society have been a hotbed of ethical debate for a long time. The ethical analysis required for this case revolves around the issue of marketing, and more specifically relates to advertising. The overall ethical dilemma is whether or not I should, in the role of a senior marketing manager of a soft drink company, approve a sexually suggestive advertising campaign for non-alcoholic beer targeted to a teenage consumer market. As with other ethical dilemmas, there is no obvious correct solution to this predicament. However, in my opinion, I would reject the advertisement (“ad”) based on a comprehensive ethical analysis that supports the solution suggested by the Teleological theory of ethics. The analysis is conducted using the “Three-Step Process to Solving Ethical Dilemmas” (Stumpf, Lecture 5) and focuses mainly on the four main ethical theories of Consequentialism, Rights-Based Approach, Deontology, and Teleology to arrive upon a solution.

Step 1: Diagnosis – What is the problem?

The overall ethical dilemma stated earlier can be broken down into two main ethical issues. Firstly, one problem lies in the fact that the proposed ad appears to promote sexual lewdness to teenagers. For example, the depiction of scantily clad teenage boys and girls eyeing each other on a beach is clear evidence of that implicit promotion. This portrayal appears to indicate that this is a case of “manipulative advertising” as it tries to “favourably alter consumers’ perceptions of the advertised product by appealing to factors other than the product’s physical attributes and functional performance” (Tittle, 95), such as sex appeal and peer acceptance.

Secondly, the other problem is that the ad also contains digital photographic manipulation that is clearly a misleading portrayal of reality. For example, the advertised beverage may well not contain high calorie content but the fact that the company is going to extreme lengths to dispel that notion suggests that it could indeed be an unhealthy product. Unlike the first issue, the second one seems to indicate that this is more a case of “deceptive advertising” since it involves “false or misleading assertions or omissions that cause reasonable consumers to form erroneous judgements about the nature of a product” (Tittle, 95). However, I feel that the this issue can also be representative of manipulating advertising as it tries to alter consumer perception by appealing to a common teenage insecurity of body image.

As such, I feel that there is a stronger argument that this ad is more manipulative than deceptive, and my ethical analysis will be conducted with the premise that this ethical dilemma deals primarily with the utilization of manipulative advertising.

Step 2: Analysis – What are the ethical options?

Before beginning to analyse this issue, it is important to mention a very significant assumption that I will make. Namely, my analysis asserts for purposes of this argument that manipulative advertising actually works in today’s society insofar consumer purchase decisions are directly impacted as a result of it. This assumption is primarily based on the statement in the case scenario which states that “evidence indicates this kind of scene is best for sales” (Audi, 135) showing that using a manipulative ad would influence consumers to purchase the beverage. Having stated the assumption, the ad’s manipulative nature provides a platform for an analysis of the four main ethical theories of Consequentialism, Rights-Based Approach, Deontology, and Teleology and their respective ethical solution for this dilemma.

Firstly, the utilitarian principle of the Consequentialism seems to apply for the situation in this case. The goal of utilitarianism is to “make...
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