Ethical vs. Unethical Advertising


Businesses are continually searching for ways to expand and increase their bottom line. Thus, companies need to be looking for creative opportunities to advertise their services or products. Successful advertising is crucial for the survival of any organization.

However, advertising can be both helpful and harmful since it is being done by businesses in their own best interest. This can lead to the line becoming blurry between ethical and unethical advertising. 

Ethical Advertising

As with most industries, advertising is regulated. There are certain practices and rules that agencies cannot break, but there are some that often bend those rules. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that advertisers remain truthful, not deceptive, backed by evidence, and fair.

Ethical advertising is about being truthful concerning the product or service in question and never exaggerating the capabilities of a product/service, or hiding its flaws. Whether using an in-house marketing team or advertising agency, any advertisements should have clear intentions and no hidden agendas.

Unethical Advertising

Unethical advertising is the misrepresentation of a product/service in some way or the use of subliminal messaging to fit a hidden agenda. This form of advertising uses deceptive ways to manipulate or convince the consumer to buy the product or service. 

A well-known example of unethical advertising was a Reebok ad that encouraged infidelity. The headline on the ad read “Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout.” This ad was extremely unethical because it promoted deceitful behavior, the shoe company faced backlash and even a boycott from its customers. 

Another form of unethical advertising is misleading claims. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to rebrand itself as Kitchen Fresh Chicken to play down the “fried” in its company name. This wasn’t only misleading to consumers, it also misrepresented itself as a healthy food chain. If any advertising misleads consumers, it is unethical.

Highlighting the Difference

Ethical advertising will display the difference between the products/services being advertised and those of competing companies.

While unethical advertising seeks to cause confusion through the use of a logo and messaging, that resembles the competition.

What Should Businesses Take Away?

When investing in advertising make sure that it is ethical or the end result could be disastrous for your bottom line, as well as, carry a hefty fine.

To learn more about how your business can implement ethical advertising, contact Keenability.