Advertising Ethics in the Social Media Age

Advertising Ethics in the Social Media Age

Tanses Yasemin Gülsoy (Beykent University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8125-5.ch018
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Advertising ethics covers a wide range of issues, from the advertising of alcohol to misleading price claims. Advertising ethics research has traditionally concentrated on the influence of advertising on consumers or the society in general. New media tend to give rise to new ethical situations. This chapter aims to examine the issue of advertising ethics in the social media and offer suggestions for resolving some of the ethical concerns raised by social media advertising.
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Advertising has drawn criticism for a wide range of ills from misleading claims to the encouragement of undesirable attitudes. While some of the barrage of criticism leveled at advertising appears to be unfounded, even a brief perusal of the titles of the books and articles on the subject of advertising is enough to show the skepticism with which public opinion regards advertising: “What’s wrong with advertising?” reads the title of a chapter in Ogilvy on Advertising (Ogilvy, 1983/1999, p. 206). “Advertising – Is this the sort of job that an honest man can take pride in?” asks another title (Corlett, 1967, as cited in Corlett, 1985). The authors – both of them advertising professionals – both offer responses to criticisms of advertising, but the titles nonetheless reveal recognition of what appears to be the prevailing public sentiment about advertising. The subject of advertising ethics is so fraught with controversy as to prompt a scholar to ask: “Advertising ethics – the ultimate oxymoron?” (Beltramini, 2003). In fact, Beltramini has pointed out that the reason why advertising ethics “has sustained itself as a towering lightning rod for controversy, at times singularly and fully credited with the demise of professional business practices, and the rise of underhanded and unprofessional commercialism” might be because it is the “most visible business tool” (2003, p. 215).

Advertising’s unintended social and cultural consequences have been the subject of much debate (see, for example, Pollay, 1986, and Holbrook, 1987, in response). While the discussion of these important arguments is beyond the scope of this chapter, they are nonetheless included to provide a broader framework for the discussion of advertising ethics and social media.

Advertising in digital media in general, and the social media in particular, has added ethical concerns of its own to the discussion of advertising ethics, which was already suffering under a cloud of suspicion. In fact, as Lane, King, and Russell (2009) have noted, advertising content that would be “ill-advised” in general-circulation media paradoxically finds its way to a narrowly focused venue such as the Internet (p. 759).

An issue that has come to be of increasing concern to consumers with the development of sophisticated communication technology and growing use of Internet marketing is privacy (e.g., Fill, 2009, p. 112; Lane, King, & Russell, 2009, p. 757; Ashworth and Free, 2006; Rapp, Hill, Gaines, & Wilson, 2009). Some even claim that privacy rights will be to the twenty-first century what civil rights and women’s equality were to the twentieth, as cited by Laczniak and Murphy (2006b, p. 315). In a section on Internet marketing, Clow and Baack (2010) include the issues of spam advertising, using cookies to track consumer Web browsing, and interstitial advertising that intrudes upon a person on the Internet without warning (p. 421).

This chapter will provide an overview of advertising ethics, address the ethical issues raised by social media advertising and try to suggest some guidelines for their resolution.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Advertising Ethics: The subject and study of ethical concerns regarding the advertising message, the group of consumers or organizational customers targeted by advertising, advertising for controversial products or services, and the purported effects of advertising on societal issues. These categories of the advertising ethics domain are provided by Treise, Weigold, Conna, and Garrison (1994) .

Word-of-Mouth Communication: Communication shared by consumers about a product or promotion and the act of sharing such communication. This definition is based on the definition of the American Marketing Association (2014).

Social media: The on-line electronic media such as on-line communities and forums, blogs, and social networks through which consumers share information with each other and with companies. The companies also may use these platforms to share information with consumers. This definition is based on that provided in Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller's Marketing Management (Pearson, 2012 AU64: The in-text citation "Pearson, 2012" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , p. 568).

Marketing Ethics: The subject and study of ethical concerns regarding marketing practices.

Digital Privacy: The right to privacy of users of digital media. Digital media raises such concerns for users as unpermitted use of personal information gathered from users’ on-line activities and unpermitted release of that information to third parties.

Social Media Marketing: Marketing activities performed through the use of social media.

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