Have you ever thought about if or how you get influenced by advertising? This is a pretty current topic, especially in the relation of the huge debate about the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States and how people got influenced by advertising. But this is only one example where advertising was used to influence people. But what about you? Are you sure that all of your opinions and values have come from you or did you get influenced by advertising without knowing about it? When I look in my closet or at the things I own, or think about the goals I have, I’m pretty sure I could not completely escape the influence of advertising. This fact gives me enough reason today to write about the ethics and limitations of marketing in the digital media age.
Advertisements and the truth
The first topic I want to talk about is relationship between advertising and the truth. This topic sounds like a really easy one, but that is up for debate. Do you think a commercial should only present the truth about a product or service and that deceptive data or intimations should not get included in a commercial? I think most of the people would agree to this statement. But is that how TV commercials or ads in newspapers work these days? To answer this question let’s have a look at a Gatorade commercial:
This commercial shows in a smart but clear way that Gatorade can make the difference between you and your opponent on the field. Now most of the people would say what a nice commercial there is nothing to say against it, but think about what we said before. We said commercials have to tell you the truth and they should not mislead you in any way. But the truth is the United States have a tremendous problem with obesity and soft drinks like Gatorade are to blame for that. A fact that supports this statement is that several big cities in the United States want to get rid of these 16 once beverages you can by in many fast food restaurants. The reason for that is, that these cities know soft drinks are to blame for the overweight of so many people. I personally think that Gatorade has to talk about that in every commercial they show! It is not enough to just say on their webpage:
“While each athlete has individual fueling and hydration needs based his/her physiology and performance goals, G Series products are formulated to meet the needs of all types of athletes. The amount consumed will depend on various factors such as sweat rate, type of sport/activity (team sports versus endurance), and overall goals.”
I personally think that this kind of advertising misleads many people. But where I definitely draw a line is on advertisements or ads that show professional bodybuilders, which get paid to show to people that a special protein or weight gainer is good. These kind of advertises impart to the customers that when you are going to use this kind of product you can build as much muscle as I did. This kind of message is only a really little part of the truth. The bodybuilder in the following commercial shows the people how to use a special mass gainer. The interesting thing about him is that he admitted to his fans that he used growth hormones and steroids over a decade to get in the shape he has. But the commercial still mediates that he got big, because of this kind of product. In my opinion that is unethical and the whole commercial advertises in a bad taste. Another fact that shows how bad this kind of advertisement is, is the fact that Rich Piana died a couple of weeks ago. That shows another time that you have to take possibly illegal substances to get a body like he had and they can lead to a very young death. Rich Piana died when he was 46 years old.
Are companies that are brands like McDonalds or Gatorade good for your society?
Another question that arises is if it is even good for a society that companies or brands like McDonalds, Gatorade and Coca Cola are trying to sell more products every year. Actually, it would be an even better sign if a society is known for eating healthy than being known for these kinds of companies. But that is the economy we are living in. We are producing products that are unhealthy, unnecessary and bad for the nature, but we earn a lot of money with it. And advertising ensures that we are happy or convinced in this madness.
A very interesting quote I read says: “Despite what some people think, advertising can’t make you buy something you don’t need.” This is a very interesting quote, because many people use it as a respond to the claim that advertising makes you buy products you don’t need. But I personally think that if there is a product that I really need, why do you even advertise it? The only reason for that could be, that you are trying to sell me a product that costs more than it is really worth it.
Does advertising influence our goals in life?
Also, a very interesting question is, how advertisements influence our goals in life. If you look at the picture of the Time Square on the top, don’t you think that this environment influences us? If you see so many ads and commercials every day, of course you get influenced by it. The fear that I have is that we are already so influenced by the media that we do not even recognize it any more. I personally think that many people have the desire to become rich or wealthy, just because the commercials told us to. That you are only happy if you can afford all of these products.
But that’s not all I think that advertising also is responsible for a shift in the value of the society. Advertising lets us strive for things we do not need and it encourages us to spend money on products that are completely overpriced. Instead of caring about the lives of other people, advertising leads us to just focus on our own and advertises egoism. You could say people are too busy to care about their fellow man, because they have to make sure to get the latest Luis Vuitton bag.
Another fact that underlines my fear is that many companies don’t only advertise their products anymore. Nowadays companies advertise a whole lifestyle. They promote a special way of how you should life your live and what kind of products support this way. A couple of years ago people went to church to get to know what the right way of live is. Now you don’t have to do that anymore, the companies tell you what is right and they show it to you so often, that even the stupidest person gets it.
What kind of responsibilities does a marketed have?
The last topic I want to talk about is what kind of responsibility’s a marketer has when you consider the tremendous influence and power commercials have. What kind of rules should a marketer consider when he does his work?
To answer this question, I want to mention that to become a marketer in the first place you have to study. I think most of the marketers out there have a college degree. Why is that important to know? This is important to know, because it gives us the chance to put ourselves in the position of a person who wants to become a marketer. Just imagine a person has just finished college and starts his first job. While he (or she) is working on a project that he considers as unethical or as a commercial which promotes a product that is controversial like cigarettes, he starts to question his ethical convictions. If he comes to the conviction that this kind of commercials are unethical, do you think he will quit his job? Is it even possible for him to quit his job considering the information that he just finished college, which means that he has to repay a tremendous debt? What I am trying to say is that even if he doesn’t want to make advertises like that he has to make them, because of his debts. This means that most of the marketers cannot decide if they only want to make ads that are okay for them.
Anyway, from my point of view, a marketer should comply with the following rules:
- An advertisement should never insult or belittle people. Neither where they are from nor what kind of religion they practice etc.
- Advertises should only accessible to people that are able to understand the purpose of ads and the target audience of advertising should only be people who know how to handle it
- Ads should present the product or service in a realistic way. That means exaggerations, unrealistic representations or any kind of misleading information are not allowed
- That advertising may only be within the laws is self-evident for me
- Advertising should in no way glorify or praise materialism
- Advertising for products or services that are detrimental to the society as a whole should be prohibited (ads for products that are responsible for the climate change or products that are to blame for the resources wear)
- A marketer should only work within his scope of authority power delegated by the principal.
- Ads must be clearly recognizable, so that people can distinguish between articles or news and advertising
- Advertising should stay out of politics completely
- Marketers should be able to say their true opinion to their co-workers and they should tell them the situation how it really is and don’t mislead their colleges.
- It should not be allowed for marketers to exploit people’s weaknesses (such as the desire to be happy or to address deeper problems in people so that they buy a product)