Ethical Issues in Marketing Communication

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Advertising posters on the inside of a train.
Advertising posters on the inside of a train. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Ethical communication about your goods and services is not only a legal matter, but it can also determine your company's sales. According to the Advertising Educational Foundation, 80 percent of Americans say they feel better about purchasing from companies whose values align with their own. Improving your marketing communication can help you avoid spreading confusing or offensive messages that could steer your target market away from your products or services.

Children

Marketing to children is considered an ethical issue because children can be highly impressionable. Advertising of apparel, food, toys, films and music targeta youth with cartoon characters, trendy catch phrases, and the use of child actors. According to the American Psychological Association, children view more than 40,000 commercials each year. Although commercials can be used to raise awareness over issues such as bullying or drugs, commercials can also be used to make potentially harmful or unhealthy items more enticing.

Stereotyping

Although marketing to a select niche can be helpful for companies, sometimes marketing communication can come across as stereotypical and even offensive. Examples of this range from sexism to racism and can often trigger a backlash from a company's target market. Sexual advertising is often seen as distasteful to women and demeaning to young women's self-esteem. Stereotyping in marketing can leave people feeling insecure about themselves or a specific classification or minority group with which they are labeled.

Health Concerns

Food companies often target lower income groups, college-age youth, or children, appealing to their need for affordable food, convenience or trendiness. Commercials often portray fast food and frozen food options as fresher, larger and more appealing than the actual product. Although food items may appear fresh, many ingredients are present in such small quantities that they are not listed. This can be potentially harmful for people who are highly sensitive or allergic to certain chemicals or food items.

Misleading Communication

Commercials sometimes make items look more stylish or more effective, show farms or green fields on the packaging of highly processed foods, or use terms such as "pure" or "natural" when the product actually contains preservatives. These misleading marketing techniques often catch the eye of the Federal Trade Commission, which seeks to protect consumers from false advertising. Sometimes, however, misleading marketing can be legal. With more websites, phone apps and advocacy groups raising awareness of false company claims, misleading marketing is bad business even when the message does not strictly violate a law.

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