Media ethics in advertising

Last Updated: 16 Apr 2020
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Media ethics is defined as, the norms or standards of behavior that guide moral choices about the conduct of dealing with particular ethical principles applied by the media organizations, while advertising ethics is an emotional process that is normally applied by the media organizations to reach the general public, with a core objective of creating persuasion to the audiences to take a particular action on a particular product or event being advertised.

Although there are no laws governing the communication process carried out by most advertising agencies, the media organisation pursuing the advertisements are basically regulated by the self organisation so as to ,maintain the standards and reputation of the media organisation to the public. The advertising media may include; advertising agencies, news papers, films, television stations and radio stations depending on the preferences of the product manufactures.[1]

In this case, we find that most businessmen use the media as their means of promoting their products to the market, through advertising, which is said to increase the audiences’ need for consuming particular products that are presented by the media, and its through this advertising that the society is notified of the presence of a new product in the market, we see that once a product is bought, another product emerges in the market. Therefore, advertising is used to influence the decision making process of a particular audience to purchase a particular product due to desires created by the media through its attractive presentation of the products quality.

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In this case, the audiences are said to be a major factor in median advertising communication, since it is through the audiences that the conveying and sourcing of information by the media for business organizations is made successful. The media itself regards the audience as being passive in the interpretation of media messages. And it is in this messages that the media gets the power to influences the audience. These audiences can be noticed by the specific needs that are always specific, whereby they are forced to look upon the media so as they can derive their satisfaction.[2]

The audiences are therefore, forced to tolerate various advertising information done by the media depending on their desire to fulfill their specified needs.  Personality under this, we find that the audience have the urge of using the advertisements on the media wanting to compare themselves with other people in the society, or even compare their lifestyle and situations with others so that they can identify their status in the society, therefore they are forced to watch, read or listen to particular media items despite the fact that they are adverts.

The need for dependency makes the audience to be looking upon the media to be given information about the events taking place and the products present in the market globally, so they have to tolerate the messages by the media so as they get the information about a particular event taking place. In this case we find that the audience read, listen and interpret the message depending on their socio-economic class, gender, age, education and their ethnic backgrounds, in this manner we find that they are influenced by the media to carry out a particular action or even to copy the concepts of life shown in the message that is put across to them through advertisements.

We see that the audience is made aware of the product and how they are to obtain it. Awareness is a stage where a consumer or the audience must have the knowledge of the existence of a particular product in the market, this is because, if a buyer is not aware of the product then there will be no action taken on the purchasing process and the business owner is likely to undergo losses due to lack of the market for its product. The media also creates interest to the audience about a particular product, he intends to buy, and therefore, he is persuaded by the content of the message presented by the media that the product is relevant to his needs.[3]

Through the media, understanding is imposed on the audience whereby, the consumer should be able to know how the particular product will meet his needs, thus the media includes the benefits and the procedures of using a particular product, under this, and the media practices its role of educating its audience. Media ethics plays a major role in the creation of attitude of the audiences; under this, the consumer must be able to develop a positive feeling towards the product, depending on the persuasive message given by the media about the product. And finally we see that the audience is led to the purchase of the product, although it may take some time later after trying to get the shop that stocks the favorite this also enriches both the business and the media when the goods are sold.

So, most media houses take this advantage of their presentation of the product to give various products false information so that, it may get its awareness by the audience. We find the advertisers use various methods to influence the society at large, this include:

Disinformation is the passing of false information by the media. This act include  the giving out of counterfeit information or photographs  about a particular product, with an intention of misleading the audience by convincing them to believe the untruth statements, so that they engage in a particular activity so as the source of the particular information may benefit.

This practice is not only practiced by the business owners, but it is also used by various political leaders and the government, who influence the media organizations to disseminate certain information that is meant to undermine other leaders in the government and through this, we find that the audience are led to take an action depending on the message given to them by the media who are surely, aware that the information included in the advertisement is not true.  This is usually referred to as false advertising in which the advertising agencies use a deliberate untrue statement to gain a profitable advantage; under this many consumers are persuaded to engage in business transactions or activities that will fulfill the need of the advertisement.[4]

The business owners are said to using the following methods to influence the consumers to purchase their products this includes: Pricing Methods; this is the most applied practice by most business owners, it is said to be the prime way to deceit consumers into paying more than the advertised price, we find that, they advertise a particular sale price and when one gets to the shop he finds that the price is not the exact advertised price in the media.

The other method applied by the business men is the introductory offer, this applied only for a period of time, where we see that when a new product is brought into the market, there is always an introductory offer to the consumers and after the expiry of the introductory time, the consumers who had accepted the first offer are not noticed on the changes and they are found to be buying the products thus benefiting the producers. The intention for this is to have the consumers to get used to the first offer whereby they continue buying the products without the knowledge of an increase in the price; this practice is usually used on the selling of electronic appliances.

The other deceptive method used by the advertisers is the; misrepresentation; this is a situation where, a particular product is given some descriptive values that it actually doesn’t carry, this is mainly used to mislead the consumers that a particular product posses, an example of this is the case where most consumers were misled by a message showing that a higher level of animal care is provided, than was actually the case by the United Egg Producers’ logo on egg cartons  which said "Animal Care Certified" [5]

Other producers are better known for misleading their consumers by the use of over sizing and under sizing the packages of the products, we find that most of the packages are packed leaving some vacant spaces at the top, this is basically found in products that are normally packed in cans and this character is not noticed until it is purchased and opened by the consumer, this is mostly deceptive where the consumer is convinced that the weight and size of the product is worth the money he is paying for the product.

This method is deceptive in a manner that we find that the packaging is of the same size but it carries a less product than before. Thus the consumers continue buying the products knowing that the quantity of the product is still the same as it was in the beginning, and the unethical practices appears when the label on the product is changed to be a sign of the new amount of the product, but it is always presented in a manner that is not easily noticeable.

Sexuality is another concept used by most businesses whereby, it is argued that this method is the most effective for drawing the consumers’ immediate interest, holding it and, in the long run, introducing a product that associates with that interest created by the media. In this case we find that various images of pretty women are related to an advertisement which does not accurately connect with the characteristics of the product being advertised.

This method is normally used in advertising cosmetic products, whereby the display of sexual acts are highly said to be explicit to the consumers thus enhancing attractive features of the products. The sex appeal may be presented in an electronic media such as the radio, where there is a limitation on visual activities; therefore the advertisers opt to use a voice that reveals a particular emotion after the use of the particular good, while in print and television media the use of sexual images is exclusively used.[6]

 Though this advertising may also have some negative impacts on the audience whereby, we may find that the person may not be able to fulfill the desires created in him on the purchasing of that particular good due to the economic status of the audience, then the person ends up creating anxiety, stress and frustration depending on the kind of information given by the media. The media organizations and the business owners are advised to be loyal to its audience and the consumers of their particular products so that they can keep the ethical standards and reputation of their organizations.


Couldry, N. and Curran, J. (2003): Contesting Media Power, Alternative media in a

Networked world, Lanham and Oxford, Rowman and Littlefield.

Christians, C. G. et al. (2004): Media Ethics, Cases & Moral Reasoning; 7th Edn: New York, Allyn and Bacon.

Croteau, D. and Hoynes, W. (2000): Media Society: Industries, Images and Audiences,

Second Edition, Thousand Oaks, Pine Forge Press.

Patterson, P. L.  and Wilkins, C. (2004): Media Ethics, Issues & Cases, 5th edition: New York, McGraw Hill

Richards, J. I. (1990): Deceptive Advertising; Erlbaum at p. 20.

[1] Richards, J. I. (1990): Deceptive Advertising; Erlbaum at p. 20.

[2] Richards, J. I. (1990): Deceptive Advertising; Erlbaum at p. 20.

[3] Patterson, P. L.  and Wilkins, C. (2004): Media Ethics, Issues & Cases, 5th  edition: New York, McGraw Hill

[4] Patterson, P. L.  and Wilkins, C. (2004): Media Ethics, Issues & Cases, 5th  edition: New York, McGraw Hill

[5] Couldry, N. and Curran, J. (2003): Contesting Media Power, Alternative media in a Networked world, Lanham and Oxford, Rowman and Littlefield.

[6] Croteau, D. and Hoynes, W. (2000): Media Society: Industries, Images and Audiences, Second Edition, Thousand Oaks, Pine Forge Press.

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Media ethics in advertising. (2017, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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