7.4 Obligations in Advertising

Just as in news, advertising professionals adhere to a number of constraints when gathering and using information, regardless of the type of advertisement they may be creating. We can once again understand these in the context of positive and negative obligations. These are drawn from the principles and practices of the Institute for Advertising Ethics.

POSITIVE OBLIGATIONS

1) Create messages with the objective of truth and high ethical standards in serving the public. Advertising is commercial information that must be treated with the same accuracy standards as news and there may be legal repercussions if the standards are not upheld.

2) Apply personal ethics, like being an honest person, in the creation and dissemination of commercial information to consumers.

3) Clearly distinguish advertising from news and editorial content and entertainment, both online and offline.

4) Clearly disclose all material conditions, such as payment or a free product, that affects endorsements in social media and traditional message channels. This is both an ethical and a legal requirement, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory bodies. For example, a blogger who is paid by a company to spread positive information about the company’s product or service must disclose she being paid for her opinions

5) Treat consumers fairly, especially when ads are directed at audiences such as children. In fact, the legal requirements for advertising aimed at children are increasingly stringent.

6) Follow all federal, state and local advertising laws, and cooperate with industry self-regulatory programs for the resolution of complaints.

7) Stand up for what is right within the organization. Members of the team creating ads should express their ethical or legal concerns when they arise. This is a good example of the personal ethics that must factor into decision-making in creating messages.

NEGATIVE OBLIGATIONS

These are obligations that represent both an ethical and, in most cases, a legal/regulatory element. The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the National Advertising Review Board, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Food and Drug Administration and many other bodies enforce these obligations when necessary.

1) Do not plagiarize. Never, ever, ever represent someone else’s work as your own.

2) Do not use false or misleading visual or verbal statements.

3) Do not make misleading price claims.

4) Do not make unfair comparisons with a competitive product or service.

5) Do not make insufficiently supported claims.

6) Do not use offensive statements, suggestions or pictures.

7) Do not compromise consumers’ personal privacy, and their choices as to whether to participate in providing personal information should be transparent and easily made.