Note: This article was originally posted in The SpringHillian, a student-run newspaper at Spring Hill College. It ran in Volume 84 Issue 3.
Mrs. Broussard's comment in last week's 'Hillian issue concerning the ethical nature of the field of advertising was well-intended, but way off base.
The field of advertising, like any other professional field, has its own code of ethics but this code is severely lacking by any objective standard.
The American Advertising Federation's "Advertising Ethics and Principles" states that "advertising shall refrain from making false, misleading, or unsubstantiated statements...about a competitor", but has no similar mandate against false, misleading, or unsubstantiated statements about one's own product.
This refusal to bar nonsensical or empty statements is understandable if one looks closer at the industry: the single most effective advertising method, other than creating a brand and slogan meant to brainwash the public, is to say something without saying anything; i.e., "99 44/100% pure", "a diamond is forever", "an army of one", etc.
While advertisers are not allowed to lie per se by law, it is clear that insinuating untruths is not only standard practice in the industry, but is also necessary competitively.
Kant held that lying is categorically wrong, and even less strict ethicists, whether utilitarian or rights-based would agree that lying (or coming close to it) in order to maximize profits for a product that is unable to sell on its own merits is morally wrong.
Fact or not, deliberately choosing only the positive qualities of a brand and excepting the negative points in an ad of any kind is, although legally considered in the right, morally considered to most definitely be lying.
Truth, real truth, has (in Montaigne's words) "no respect or consideration at all, either to thy service, or to...glory.... [I]mperfections shall thus be read to the life, and...naturall forme discerned, so farreforth as publicke rcverence hath permitted."
In addition, the prevalence of commercials in American mass media severely hurts our democracy. Today, six huge corporations (Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's, Bertelsmann, and Viacom) control nearly ALL of the media available to us today.
Through commercials and other advertising, these elite corporations have taken over all that we see and hear each and everyday in every medium imaginable.
The bottom line is that just because a professional group has a code of ethics does not mean that it, as an industry, behaves unethically.
Remember that Romans considered themselves ethical even while enjoying he games in the Colosseum and the Greeks considered themselves ethical even while practicing pederasty.
Living up to a worthless code of ethics is just as immoral as living with no code of ethics at all.
—Eric Herboso, '06