Ethics in Advertising?

Advertisements decades ago oozed of sexual, racist and downright eye-opening themes and images that might cause one to wonder how someone OK’d it in the first place. Racial imagery, sexualized women and exaggerated stereotypes of the LGBT community were what shaped a lot of advertisements back then. The advertisements for cigarettes and alcohol were around a lot as well, and children could easily just turn on the television and see them. Fat shaming was a popular theme, too. Restaurants, food brands and any other line of business associated with commercials for food were quite blatant with their opinion on plus-size people. There was little to no regard for ethics or a moral code when doing business in advertising. Advertisers just wanted to catch the public’s eye, and they succeeded.

But why?

When America is comprised of a hegemonic society, that is, of a masculine normative that has shaped our history and societal expectations, advertisements like these are aplenty.  When America is comprised of a culturally narrow society where racism is still abound, just type in a quick Google search on 21st Century advertisements and you will find a lot of the ad firms playing into the same game of discriminatory practice that they have been doing since the beginning stages of advertising.

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Advertising firms may play a utilitarianism role with no hint of distributive justice, since advertisements still blatantly show, even if they are subtle, hints of racism, sexism and homophobia. Distributive justice means that there may be no justice to the people who do not have their voices heard in the mainstream media as much, as compared to, say, a white, middle-class, heterosexual man. Advertising firms play the utilitarianism role because they like to cater more to the majority voice. America’s normative society is exactly what I listed earlier: White men. If they are not happy, then advertising business isn’t happy.

A code of ethics in advertising is questionable. Advertising firms cater to the majority of our society. What does that say about America’s code of ethics then?

I think if we were to look at the advertisement’s view of ethics, we will see society’s code of ethics.  Eye-opening, questionable, raw, dirty themes and messages are everywhere, because these kinds of advertisements are what gets the public’s attention, not one that plays by the rules. Advertisers, to me, are just issuing out what we as a society expect to want when we seek entertainment. It may not be the code of ethics in advertising that we must consider, but the code of ethics in U.S. culture. 

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