Paralegal Guide: Advertising Law and Ethics
As long as there have been goods to sell, there has been advertisement that helped promote and encourage its services. With the beginnings of the industrial revolution, this simple sales tool began to rapidly expand in scope and ambition. As brands became household names, advertisements became important means for companies to compete with rival products. Advertising saw an expansion from its traditional verbal and storefront methods to take advantage of print, radio, television and most recently, the internet. Today, advertising is a major industry unto itself, with huge revenues and ads spread everywhere from benches to flying banners. As advertising expands and becomes more targeted, there are concerns from throughout society as to its effects on the public.
Regulation of advertising is largely controlled by government agencies, but they often make few prosecutions of advertisers. Occasionally, advertisements are pulled due to perceived obscenities or false claims. The response of the public and watchdog groups are often the primary factors for advertisements to be pulled. For the most part, advertising is a self-regulated industry, with large private organizations of advertisers agreeing on standards and ethics. Both advertising law and ethics are hotly debated topics within and outside the industry.
As part of an ongoing of effort to provide the best information on advertising, and legal studies in general, this guide contains resources for better understanding of advertising law and ethics. These resources include regulatory sites, law and ethics overviews and articles and publications concerning law and ethics. Additionally, some reference sites have been included to aid in further research on this topic. The hope is that this guide will prove to be useful for students of marketing or law, as well as anybody else interested in learning more about something they see every day.
Ethics can be a fine line in the world of advertising. Particularly in the modern era, where few subjects remain taboo. Sex, for example, is a central element of a large portion of advertising. Often, an ad or commercial is focused on presenting an image or style rather than the actual product. Additionally, ads for products such as alcohol or cigarettes, struggle to find a socially acceptable method to promote these products. The balance to exploit the desires of the public for commercial gains, while respecting ethics and morality can often be at odds. The following resources discuss the central issues behind ethics in advertising, and how the advertising industry approaches them.
- Ethics in Advertising – Contains the transcript of a speech given by an advertising executive about the role of ethics in advertising. The speaker covers multiple situations where ethics come into play (and conflict) with advertising and marketing.
- Can Advertising Be Ethical? – An article debating whether ethics have a place in advertising, or whether the two are largely incompatible. Examines how advertising can be compatible with modern social desires and goals.
- Ethics and Advertising – A scholarly article on the compatibility of ethics and advertising in society. Analyzes the psychological and historical impacts of advertisements.
- Advertising Ethics Outline – A scholarly outline of the various issues and debates on ethics in advertising. Lists such themes as morality, deception and economics.
- How is Advertising Influenced by Ethics? – An article from CNN featuring a discussion from an advertising executive on ethical advertisements. The discussion focuses on advertising for hazardous products such as cigarettes or alcohol.
- The Vatican and Ethics in Advertising – Even the Holy See recognizes the conflicts between ethics and advertising, as evidenced in this rather comprehensive look at the role of advertising in society. Weighs the benefits and costs of advertising and then examines them from a morality viewpoint.
Federal laws are the primary regulation for the advertising industry. Ads containing false advertising, obscene imagery or aggressive marketing may fall under these regulations and be forced to be altered or removed. However, the laws defining these limits can be rather vague. False claims and fraud can be hard to judge, as the law permits exaggeration, or ‘puffery’ as a means for selling products. Additionally, sexual innuendo and violence in advertising has limits that are not readily defined, and is often judged on a case by case (or ad by ad) basis.
- Puffery in Advertising – An article on the appearance of puffery in advertising, or the inflation of facts to market products. Discusses the legal implications of this term and its required burden of proof.
- The Powers and Perils of Puffery – An article from the Harvard Business Review on how puffery is used in modern advertising. Examines recent studies and surveys on the power and influence of puffery.
- Advertising Compliance Service – An extensive online resource for researching advertising law. Geared towards advertisers and legal professionals featuring categories such as viral, ‘green’ and web advertising.
- Advertising Standards Authority – The regulatory body for advertising in the United Kingdom. Explains the regulations and laws surrounding advertising and offers examples of ‘fraudulent’ or ‘obscene’ advertisements.
- Federal Advertising Law: An Overview – A report on federal advertising law and issues, commissioned by the Congressional Research Service. Covers the following issues in advertising; alcohol advertising, tobacco advertising, the Federal Trade Commission Act, advertising by mail, advertising by telephone, and commercial e-mail (spam).
- Advertising FAQ’s: a Guide for Small Business – A FAQ guide for small business owners to understand the laws regulating advertising in America. Focuses on truth and deception in advertising and the role of the FTC in prosecuting violators.
- Federal Trade Commission – The homepage for the FTC, the primary regulating agency for advertising and marketing in America. Their website features a dedicated section on consumer protection.
Modern Issues in Advertising
In the contemporary world of advertising, there is a constant stream of ads and promotions that are presented to the public daily. A sporting event may feature a corporate name for the game, team and stadium, while also having official uniforms, automobiles and beverages. In the realm of cyberspace, this expansion has also seen large gains, with viral ads, banner ads, spam, pop-ups and more. This high profile presence of advertising is the subject of much debate on its effects on business, society and psychologies. The following resources cover some of the modern issues in advertising.
- The Ethics of Digital Magazine Advertising – The effects of digital magazine advertising on consumers is the subject of this PBS article. Looks at how modern advertising methods such as in-text ads can blur content and marketing.
- Advertising Age – The leading publication for news and information from all corners of the advertising industry.
- Consumer Advertising Law Blog – A legal blog focusing on court cases and legal rulings in advertising law and consumer rights. Regularly updated and authored by legal professionals.