Posted by: Melissa De Lyser | December 2, 2013

Advertising AND ethics vs. advertising OR ethics

It’s sad that “ethics” and “advertising” are often perceived as contradictory terms. In fact, I was surprised to learn that, according to the Institute for Advertising Ethics article, that only 13% of respondents said they “never” trust that advertising is honest in its claims. I would have thought the percentage would have been higher.

Digital culture has made it easier for advertisers to tout their products less ethically.  Is it ethical, for example, for a company to pay reviewers – either in cash or product – to write positive reviews about a product?  I recently viewed a blog that purported to be a how-to site.  Instead, it advertised an online service with a “free 30-day trial.”

On the flip side, social media allows consumers to share their experiences with products.  When these experiences contradict advertisers’ claims, the product/service/company suffers.  In addition, digital culture makes it easier than ever before for consumers to research products, services and companies long before they reach for their wallets.

Digital media doesn’t seem to have made building consumer trust any easier for companies and advertisers.  For example, according to The Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in business and government leadership is at a crisis.  Is a lack of trust in a business’s leadership reflected in the consumer’s trust in the businesses’ advertising claims?   It’s an interesting question.  I don’t think, for example, that consumers trusted Toyota’s CEO after the company mismanaged the gas –pedal crisis.  Yet consumers responded to the ad campaign that followed.  Is that the norm?


  1. You raise really interesting questions, and a lot of them speak to the idea concept of authenticity, especially in the realm of blogging, which you pointed out. I read a lot of fashion and lifestyle blogs, which are inundated with “courtesy of” products. Thanks to changes to FTC regulations, bloggers are now required to disclose when products they feature are c/o, and their relationships with brands are now out in the open. Many of them also share links to products that they then earn money on when somebody buys the linked-to product through an affiliate program called RewardStyle.

    In cases like this I have to wonder if relationships with brands like the ones I mentioned above, destroy the authenticity of the bloggers’ recommendations and content. Would a certain fashion blogger have picked out their c/o outfit on their own without brand sponsorship? Would a home renovation blogger have recommended a particular tool without having received it for free? Is that kind of content really ethical even though the bloggers are being transparent about the relationship?

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