Advertising: The Definition and Moral Issue

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 6
Words: 1542
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


Advertisements are a part of our everyday lives. They are placed at every legally imaginable place possible by companies, governments and other interested organizations to get our attention. Can you imagine the Super Bowl without its world-famous commercial breaks, or our highways without their towering billboards? The truth is that this medium of business promotion is here to stay. (AGCM)

What advertising is?

In order to understand the moral issues associated with advertising, we must first understand what it is and how it works. Advertising is hard to define. Legal and statutory definitions put it as “a paid form of the message disseminated by businesses……..specifically and systematically designed to influence the attitudes and decisions of individuals in relation to their consumption of goods and their use of services” (

The use of advertising, however, is easier to state. Their core function is to sell a good, service or product to a targeted audience (MacRury, 1). The main users of advertising are the business world. However, other parties such as the government and NGOs use it too. In general, advertisements are used to pass across a message which influences an individual to take a certain course of action. (AGCM)

Advertisements have evolved in complexity and creativity throughout the years. This is mainly due to the immense amount of research that has gone into it. According to Vakratsas and Ambler, advertising works in several stages. The first stage is the delivery of the message. This message may be repeated for more effect. At the second stage, some form of mental effect happens. The mental effect includes knowledge, recollection and the person’s outlook of the message. This affects the way a person thinks and feels toward the product. The end product is a purchase (Vakratsas& Demetrios).

The process goes to show that advertising exploits the use of attitude and association. Whoever the message is delivered to must relate the product to a positive experience, thought or aspiration that they have in order for a positive end result to happen. This means that an advertiser will seek to create an advert that will do this in order to be successful in his end goal, to sell. So what is to stop an advertiser from exploiting this for his own end? What is to stop him from making false claims about what his product can do? (Taflinger, Richard)

Moral issues in advertising

The first line that advertising crosses is the sex line. It is common knowledge that sex sells. Advertisers have taken this notion and gone overboard with it. Products are now highly sexualized. This has happened even on ridiculous levels where products that are not remotely sexual are marketed with sexual undertones. For example, Taflinger notes an example where an advert for car greases is advertised using a woman’s cleavage. In all honesty, what does grease have to do with cleavage? Yet an advert will unquestionably use this basic instinct to attract attention to their advertisement. The effects are seemingly obvious.

With this kind of flaunting of sexuality all over the screen, we have seen an increase in sexual activity within our society. From children, teens to adults, a higher level of sexuality have been noted due to increased exposure to sexual content. The fact that we have embraced this display of sexuality does not make the effects any less grave. In fact, Taflinger warns that the use of sex is a double-edged sword that benefits the salesman, but harms society. Sexual adverts in general suggest to the target that if they get the product they have, then they can be more sexually appealing (Taflinger). This lie extends to products that have no association with sex, like car grease! By exploiting a very strong emotional appeal, the desire to be more sexually attractive, the advert pulls in people to buy.

Secondly, adverts only seek to increase the extent of spending that we have. Garey notes with concern that the extent of advertising influences our spending culture. Being bombarded daily by messages that encourage us to spend more and more has caused our society to consume, even products that we do not need. Garey states that being surrounded by these adverts more and more causes one’s sensibility to decrease as we are psychologically pressured to buy.

The madness does not only target the adults, it also targets the children. Psychologists note with concern that the new generation of children does not believe in happiness without the purchase of specific products. This is because of the advertising frequency and tactics applied to children (Clay, 52). We have on our hands a younger generation already growing in a consumerism culture. The children are taught through adverts that happiness is brought by owning the latest gadget or toy. Apart from this, it affects their eating habits and that’s why many children are growing obese.

Advertisement is good and we can’t run away from the fact that it needs some regulation to ensure that society does not dissociate in the name of the advertisement. Some of the ways through which this can be done are by setting rules on the subject. Governments from all places should put strict conditions on the type of adverts that appear on the media or any other agency. The advertisers must also get conscious and do what is morally right in their work. They should follow their business ethics which am sure, restricts them from using terms and adverts that bring adverse effects to society. (Taflinger, Richard)

What is likely to happen if this trend continues? What are the possible effects in the time to come? (Clay & Rebecca)

With the genesis of the use of sex and sexual messages in advertising, there is a great possibility that the future is going to bring up people who are socialized in a questionable manner. The main trend in advertising is that every piece of advert that is expected to touch the hearts of people must touch on the sensitive question of sex. An advert that uses images of naked people is preferred by many people compared to one that uses photos of well-dressed people.

In the past people were not supposed to watch such images, they slowly lost that conviction and today many can watch the same images without being guilty. There is a decline in morals due to these adverts and the advertisers know that yet they can not stop using such staff. There is a possibility that this trend will grow and in fifteen years, this may reach maturity and what do we expect? Adverts with totally naked people, people walking totally naked due to the influence from the adverts, people doing sex openly and anywhere because that is what they see often and generally people who have lost all morals. (Garey & Stephen)

The advertisement may also result in to decrease in the mental and decisive capabilities of the next generation. For one to choose a product or service, there are numerous choices provided. This is not a problem and it’s not my point of contention, in these choices numerous explanations are given, both true and false. People are not provided with opportunities to think and decide for themselves.

The result is laziness and the absence of rational beings who can decide for themselves. This is already happening and there is a possibility that the future causes more of these effects since advertising is not stopping today or tomorrow. It is growing and I foresee a day when everything shall be advertised even the choice of food to cook for dinner or the dress to wear for a walk outside. The results are a lazy and irrational generation. (MacRury& Iain)


Research is indicating that many of the adverts do not convey the message they were intended to convey anymore. I am thinking of the many advertisements in the media and in the internet. They have a message from the producer, but how many people are able to see the message? I guess very few. In fact, the advertisements are failing and from research, the failure rate of newly manufactured products is very high.

This is explained by the reason above. People are so much concerned with the hidden messages that make the advertisement look good. If people are shifted to this cause today, there is a possibility that in future people will not be interested in the message from adverts completely. What will be the benefit to the advertisers and the advertising industry? There will be a total failure. (Garey & Stephen)

The other possibility is that there will be an effect on the health of many girls and women. Today many girls want to imitate these people who appear on the screens. “Brief exposure to thin-ideal media images has been shown to have a small but consistent negative impact on women and girls’ body dissatisfaction.” (Hargreaves and Tiggeman) This is possibly going to get worse and lead to health problems for so many girls and women. This can be tied with the possibility of people using some of the advertised foods that are not ideal for human consumption but have been advertised in the media which will lead to ill health in the people in some days to come. (Taflinger, Richard)

Works Cited

AGCM_ “The statutory definition of advertising.” AGCM. Web.

Clay, Rebecca. “Advertising to children: Is it ethical?” Apa. 2000. Web.

Garey, Stephen. “Brands R Us: How Advertising Works.” Center for Media Literacy. Web.

MacRury, Iain. Advertising. Illustrated. Routledge, 2009. Print. Web.

Reed, Michael. “The Ethics of Food Advertising on Children.” Healthmad. 2008. Web.

Taflinger, Richard. “You and Me, Babe: Sex and Advertising.” WSU. 1996. Web.

Vakratsas, Demetrios, and Tim Ambler. “How Advertising Works: What Do We Really Know?” The Journal of Marketing 63.1 (1999): 26-43. Print.