Why is advertising an ethical problem?
If it is, it is because it is often intrusive, deceptive, or manipulative -- or, at least, this is what people say about it.
Another problem is the money and resources devoted to advertising; billions are spent each year (around $500 billion in fact) that, perhaps, could go to education, health care, research, reforestation, or other worthy causes. We'll come back to this, but first we look at the problem of deception.
Could argue that it distorts our whole economy; it is not merely that we are bombarded by it all the time, but may even impede certain important functions such as free debate. What gets published in newspapers and journals often becomes a function of what advertisers are willing to support. Advertising also has an indirect but powerful impact on society through its influence on media. Many publications and broadcasting operations depend on advertising revenue for survival. This often is true of religious media as well as commercial media. For their part, advertisers naturally seek to reach audiences; and the media, striving to deliver audiences to advertisers, must shape their content so to attract audiences of the size and demographic composition sought. This economic dependency of media and the power it confers upon advertisers carries with it serious responsibilities for both. PROS
a) Economic Benefits of Advertising
5. Advertising can play an important role in the process by which an economic system guided by moral norms and responsive to the common good contributes to human development. Advertising does this, among other ways, by informing people about the availability of rationally desirable new products and services and improvements in existing ones, helping them to make informed, prudent consumer decisions, contributing to efficiency and the lowering of prices, and stimulating economic progress through the expansion of business and trade. b) Benefits of Political Advertising
Political advertising can make a contribution to democracy analogous to its contribution to economic well being in a market system guided by moral norms. So political advertising can make its contribution by informing people about the ideas and policy proposals of parties and candidates, including new candidates not previously known to the public. c) Cultural Benefits of Advertising
This they do by supporting material of excellent intellectual, aesthetic and moral quality presented with the public interest in view, and particularly by encouraging and making possible media presentations which are oriented to minorities whose needs might otherwise go unserved. Moreover, advertising can itself contribute to the betterment of society by uplifting and inspiring people and motivating them to act in ways that benefit themselves and others. d) Moral and Religious Benefits of Advertising
In many cases, too, benevolent social institutions, including those of a religious nature, use advertising to communicate their messages messages of faith, of patriotism, of tolerance, compassion and neighborly service, of charity toward the needy, messages concerning health and education, constructive and helpful messages that educate and motivate people in a variety of beneficial ways.
a) Economic Harms of Advertising
More often, though, advertising is used not simply to inform but to persuade and motivate to convince people to act in certain ways: buy certain products or services, patronize certain institutions, and the like. This is where particular abuses can occur. The practice of "brand"-related advertising can raise serious problems. Often there are only negligible differences among similar products of different brands, and advertising may attempt to move people to act on the basis of irrational motives ("brand loyalty," status, fashion, "sex appeal," etc.) instead of presenting differences in product quality and price as bases for rational choice. a tool of the...
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