3 Things Wrong with Unethical Advertising and Why It's Such a No No

Print and online advertising are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who provide a code of conduct for businesses to abide by when producing adverts. These codes are in place to rule out any offensive or false messages being published.

shocked gorilla to represent problems with unethical advertising

The ASA expects all advertising to be legal, decent and truthful. If they don’t deem it to be any of those three things, this makes it unethical. Unethical advertising can cause problems for the consumer and the business whose advert is under scrutiny too. If you’re unsure what unethical advertising is, this post will outline everything you need to know and three things to watch out for when releasing your next advertising campaign.

We’ll cover:

  • The Problems Unethical Advertising Can Cause
  • How Unethical Advertising Damages Your Reputation
  • Can Harm Your Wallet Too
  • 3 Things to Watch Out For in Your Next Advertising Campaign

The Problems Unethical Advertising Can Cause

Unethical advertising can be very problematic. It can affect many things and can potentially cause harm, offence and provide false information.

Although morally wrong, it’s important to know that unethical advertising isn’t actually breaking the law. There’s a difference between not passing the ASA’s codes of conduct and breaking the actual law.

A good example to illustrate is payday loan advertisements. These businesses are legally sound, but widespread public opinion is that what they do is exploitative. They offer quick cash fixes with high-interest rates that can be really tough to pay back.

But their adverts are okay within the codes of conduct, so they get passed and no rules are broken, despite their business model being targeted directly at financially vulnerable people. The ASA only takes care of the content of the advert itself, not the product or service, or the effect either of those has. Only the advert is looked at.

Your ads might be passed by the ASA but various problems that generally unethical advertising can cause are:


  • Harms your business’ moral principles and damages your image. People will automatically associate you with the harmful advert and tar your whole business with the same brush.
  • Harms your partners' image too. Your partners won’t be happy about this and may terminate their contracts with your business.
  • Investors may withdraw their money and not want to support an unethical business anymore. This can also block the potential for further investment too.
  • Problems with the ASA and potential sanctions, usually monetary.
  • Your advertisements will be taken down and it will prove to be a waste of time, money and resource.
  • Your brand will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

How Unethical Advertising Damages Your Reputation

If you have an advertisement pulled down for a certain discriminatory message or false advertisement, you’ll then be “outed” to everybody with a certain reputation. Unfortunately, when it comes to this sort of thing, people have very long memories and you’ll find trying to shift this reputation pretty hard. No matter how many times you come out and say sorry.

Businesses have partners too who they work with. If it comes out that they’ve been spreading offensive messages in their advertising or operating in an unethical way it could lead to their partners not wanting to work with them anymore, as they run the risk of harming their image too just for being associated with a certain business with an image.

Investors may also pull their money out as they don’t want to be perceived as funding that particular company. Operating in an unethical way could also lead to potential investors being completely put off and blocking any future investment.

 

Can Harm Your Bottom Line Too

Not only will it harm your wallet in a sense of investment withdrawal and potentially blocking other investment too but the advertisements will ultimately be pulled down. This means that your whole campaign will be a waste. The money you’ve spent on it, the time and effort and your staff and ultimately, the resources too.

As people will have a tainted image of you, it may stop them from buying your products and using your services again. People don't want to be seen associating themselves with a company who advertise unethically, having potentially offended or harmed people.

The biggest cost you’ll have to deal with if you advertise unethically is your sanction from the ASA. Some campaigns are simply told to just take the adverts down and create new ones. Whereas, others are fined too. These can prove to be pretty hefty fees that you’ll definitely be better off avoiding.

 

3 Things to Watch Out For in Your Next Advertising Campaign

When you’re planning for and creating your next advertising campaign, you must ensure that you operate morally and ethically for the right results. In order to do stake note of these three crucial pointers.

1. Misleading Claims

Don’t exaggerate the truth, it’ll only get thrown back in your face at some point. If any advertising makes claims that completely mislead your audience, then it’s definitely unethical. However, there’s a difference between misleading and a little tongue in cheek exaggeration. Don’t promise the world when you can’t give your customers it, basically.

2. Never Incorrectly Use Fear as a Motivator

Some businesses and advertisers love to use fear as a motivator and drive up leads. Campaigns that save lives and promote things like awareness against drink driving, smoking and domestic violence can justify this approach. However, you have to have the right campaign to be able to use it properly.


For example, telling somebody that they’re going to be in harm's way if they don’t buy a certain type of insurance isn’t true or fair. You shouldn’t scare people into buying something, it’s completely unethical and is plain wrong.

reebok ad from business insider

Read more about how Reebok had to pull an unethical ad over on BusinessInsider

 

3. Promoting Any Kind of Unethical Behaviour

Anything that promotes unethical or immoral behaviour is wrong. A recent example of this is Reebok released an ad that encouraged infidelity.

The headline of their campaign read “Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout.” It could quite easily have read “A workout is like a girlfriend – you never cheat on it.” This is obviously not great practice and it’s easy to see why some people were so offended by it.

Dangerous driving, excessive drinking, unruly or anti-social behaviour, cruelty to animals, neglect of children can all be classed as unethical advertising topics.

 

Make Sure Your Advertising is Always Ethical

It can be easy to miss something in your campaign that could potentially put it in jeopardy. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. The last thing we’d want is your business to suffer from a silly mistake and then for you to be tarred with a reputation for the rest of your business life.

Plus, being ethical spans beyond producing morally sound ad content. It’s an attitude to instill in a company, from how you treat your staff to how sustainable your operations are.

So, we’ve put together an ethical guide. This guide contains everything you need to know on making your advertising as morally correct and ethical as possible. Download it for free below.

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