Advertising and Commercial Media

Advertising Ethics

By: Sam Fowler

As modern advertising continues to become more extravagant and competitive, questions of ethics have become extremely important.

Testing Ethics

One test of ethics sought to simplify the evaluation of if an ad is ethical. This is called the TARES test, standing for:





-socially responsible

While this test seems relatively simple, each is a truly complex term when you consider it fully.For example, the word “truthful” is more trivial than what we would think.

Don Knowlton, well known advertising agent raises the question,“How much of advertising is really true?”.

He asserts that most advertising is based on actual facts but yet very little is truly “true” due to exaggeration, symbolism, and playing to the human mind. This is because if a product was only shown in its true light, it would be much less appealing than that golden Big Mac bun with perfectly browned patty, fresh tomato and lettuce with a perfect artwork of mustard on top. Here is a video to show just how much truth is stretched to achieve that golden arched image.

Screenshot 2017-04-03 22.51.05

Advertising to Children

Speaking of fast food, this exaggerated advertising may seem harmless and lighthearted ,but when kids are the most susceptible to buying into this advertising while not fully understanding that line between exaggeration and reality, it can raise serious questions. When most food advertised is unhealthy, that has an impact.

With America battling increased diabetes rates, many government organizations work to analyze marketing to children in an effort to reverse this trend and help kids to make healthier choices.


Children, on average, see 40,000 commercials a year, and commercials are specifically designed to influence behavior.

The Federal Trade Commission has set general expectations to limit exaggeration in advertising.

However, there is no civil penalty for violating these expectations unless it raises real concern in which a full investigation is launched. The FTC Endorsement Guides also state that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed, just as medical product advertising must include all risks and side effects.

Cookie Monster

Another recent concern raised in advertising is the new installation of  “cookies” in digital media use that tracks what you look at online.


This raises ethical questions regarding personal privacy. Most consumers are not informed of the information that is being collected about them and they cannot effectively opt out of this process. As digital media is everywhere, there is no way to escape the digital lifestyle.

Our likes and dislikes are now digitalized knowledge. Looks like Big Brother who’s been watching wants to bring a gift to the digital party.



Psychology Today

Digital Advertising Journal


Federal Trade Commission 

U.S. National Library of Health

Journal of Ethical Tests in Advertising


One thought on “Advertising Ethics

  1. This article was very interesting to me because it is similar to what I wrote about in my own last blog post. Behavioral targeting is a form of marketing that many businesses are beginning to use in order to “hone” in on potential customers. “Cookies” are certainly some of the most popular ways of marketers gathering this information, however I never took into account the invasion of privacy factor when writing the article. Very interesting to compare our research!


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