Advertising and Ethics

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ArticleYAAYasmeen Aftab Ali

Sounds pretty basic. Except it isn’t. There are dos and don’ts in advertising. Or there should be. Advertising is not just about selling products or services; it’s also about molding opinions on issues, creating better civic awareness among masses among other things. Remember the advertisements telling you about the precautions to be taken to avoid dengue fever? The advertisement telling the viewer how AIDS spreads and ways to avoid it? Then there are advertisements that ask for donations in earthquakes and floods.

There are (sigh) advertisements that are singularly in bad taste. An article titled, ‘Commercials: Bad taste, good advertisement?’  in The Independent UK, Published 14th June 2012 gives a prime example of bad taste in advertising, “a post appeared on the Facebook page for the condom manufacturer Durex, purporting to be an advertisement for its core product: an image of a woman’s mouth, patched up at the corners with sticking plasters; a box of Durex XXL condoms; and the tagline “Really Big…”. In fact, the image was originally a 2007 print ad for Burger King’s “Real Big Burgers”, repurposed by an internet wag in 2009 and published on the Durex page in 2012 by some tone-deaf social-media operative, who’d also commented: “Poor woman (or maybe a lucky one?).” When the complaints started flooding in, the post was quickly removed.”

Then there are advertisements that are not quite truthful. They may not be an outright lie, attributing a quality to the product it does not possess to being somewhat misleading. Hey, there’s a big time difference between pushing the truth and between out rightly making a false claim guys. There have been cases, where blurring the lines has cost an arm and a leg to the rich clients! And many a time consumers have purchased a product only to find it never offered the traits advertised. Pox on the advertisers! According to a report by Business Insider, “Dannon’s popular Activia brand yogurt lured consumers into paying more for its purported nutritional benefits — when it was actually pretty much the same as every other kind of yogurt.

Falsely touting the “clinically” and “scientifically” proven nutritional benefits of the product, Dannon even got a famous spokesperson, Jamie Lee Curtis, for the supposed digestion-regulator. But after a while, some customers didn’t buy it. A class action settlement last year forced Dannon to pay up to $45 million in damages to the consumers that filed the lawsuit and others who said they’d been bamboozled. The company also had to limit its health claims on its products strictly to factual ones.” (Original Source ABC News)

Boy, do I hate the advertisements that reinforce stereotypes. Those advertisements that show the mother-in—law always as a grumpy, hard-to-please type, the daughter-in-law as the sweet, smiling angel, single handedly cooking a feast with the un-melted make-up, not a hair out of place, freshly done dress, not a wrinkle seen-whether its breakfast time or dinner. Give me a break for God’s sake OK? Gender roles are boring. Wake up guys! We live in the 21st century. Men like to cook. Actually men who cook are sexy. They use face washes and clean their under arms. Get real please!

While we are at it, STOP selling to kids. I hate tiny tots whining at supermarkets and dragging over the floor wanting to buy something ridiculous like sanitary napkins for a cheap, free treat. The mum shushing them, probably a granny who doesn’t get her periods anymore.

Advertisement need to be fun, sell yes, but please don’t bore or clown me into buying. Can we have more of that new batch of U-fone advertisements they run on the local channels? Great ones. They tell you what the product is, advantages or USPs as we call them.  (unique selling point) The concept of a group of workers going to a rich landlord all het up and wanting an answer to injustices is not only a social and political comment but links the U-fone beautifully to the theme, as we say in advertising, ‘bringing it together.’ The setting, the dresses, the dialogue all a master stroke. This particular advertisement based on ‘Hisab Doh’ (Give accountability) released in 2014 is mind-blowing!

Ethics in advertising is about lightly teaching the consumers some civic sense- nudging them ever so gently in the right direction. Taking greater responsibility not only for their actions but also for the environment. Remember the Tetra Pack advertisement many years ago, educating people as to why packaged good is good? Another brilliant advertisement in year 2014 is by Habib Bank Limited. Introducing the Fuel Card, the commercial shows a couple driving while facing the wrong side of the traffic. The traffic warden stops them.  (Great projection here HBL; breaking the stereotyping of the negative image of the police) As they argue a voice over says words to the effect that the right way to save fuel is NOT to go the wrong way of the road in order to make a short cut but to get yourself a Fuel Card. The advertisement tells the viewer that on HBL Fuel Card monthly savings is up to Rs 2000/- by driving in to any fuel station in Pakistan. A driver is shown at a petrol station and proudly says, ‘ Yeh Hai Bachat ka Right Way.’ (This is the right way to save)

The idea was simple yet brilliant. How many times each one of us has taken the wrong turns knowing full well the damn street is either a one way or when we take a turn from a place we are not supposed to turn, we increase the chances of possible hurt in such cases by breaking traffic rules. Here is HBL trying to drive some civic sense in our thick heads, telling us hey you! Stop! If you really, really want to save on fuel get yourself an HBL Fuel Card. OK guys thumbs up, I love the concept intertwined with being an organization that acts socially responsible. That’s super-cool! I mean, the damn advertisement was so convincing it made me go to a branch of their bank to get more information and a Fuel Card made for me. That’s the power of advertisement for you!

David Ogilvy Mather, the guru of advertising said, “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.” (Confessions of an Advertising Man)

Yeah  true. Cut out the crap when you make one. Let it not stink!

The writer is former Advertising & Sales Promotion Manager for Coca-Cola South West Asia region. She is also a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan. Her email is: and tweets at @yasmeen_9











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  • GRK  On April 1, 2014 at 2:01 am

    dear Ms Yasmeen.i was delighted to read your thought provoking below communication.i earnestly request you to kindly help us in bringing an end to a commercial,showing a house watching a extreemly dirty toilet with bare appears at prime time of 9.45 pm on geo particularly and that is the time to either go for dinner or is extreemly stinking to see this add.kindest regards sincerely

  • Shehla  On April 1, 2014 at 2:03 am

    That’s really so true..I hate that add too as it might encouraged kids to touch the toilet.
    thanks GRK bhai to raise this point.

  • Syed W. Hussain  On April 1, 2014 at 2:04 am

    It is my belief that advertising can be a dangerous tool in the hands of wrong people. The whole idea is based on the theory that was evolved
    during the WWII by the Nazis. It states. “If a lie is broad cast to the population with high frequency and intensity for a long period of time
    it becomes part of a culture. People begin to believe it.”

    It is for this reason that there are laws now in USA to control the truth in advertising. What you see is what you get should be the
    core of an advertisement. But that is not so. Corporations push the envelope of truth and decency every opportunity they get and the public
    buys it. For example Coca Cola is now a fully accepted drink throughout the world due to is global songs and intense push. The fact is they are
    selling sugar primarily and look at the levels of diabetes and cardio vascular diseases in all cultures now. What they do not tell you is excessive sugar
    in a drink is absorbed at a very high speed compared to other foods. This releases a panic kind of dose of insulin in the blood stream. It is this excess
    of insulin before it is neutralized by our bodies that creates irritation within weak spots in the walls of the veins. If the body is not given time to heal from this
    irritation it begins to form its own clot of sorts using the cholesterol. Which in turn begins to clog the arteries. As long as the metabolism is
    strong, the body repairs itself quickly and recovers. But as we get older, the metabolism rate drops. The damage goes un repaired. Which leads
    to cardio vascular diseases. So no matter how you look at it. Excessive sugar in diet is the basic reason for this out break and specially in drinks it is worst.

    Yet we see ads from Coca Cola with happy and gleeful young people enjoying the drink as part of their life experience.

    This same philosophy is continuously applied in political ads to change the opinions of the population with regards to
    the candidates or the issues on the ballot. That is where the freedom of doing business counter acts with the freedom
    of the thought of the population and renders democracy a controlled substance by those who possess the wealth that can
    control the key people in the government.

    How can we stop falsehood from advertising is a raging debate. We cannot stop people from earning their livelihood
    regardless of its ethics. The only option left for us as members of the population is to teach our children to be more
    vigilant. The truth is, corporations, that are in human entities, are like machines. Their purpose in their life is to produce
    revenue. Moral judgment is impaired by that narrowed capability. So it is for us the members of the population to be vigilant and not put
    complete trust in an advertisement. Always question, obtain knowledge and decide if there is an element of falsehood. If falsehood is apparent then
    avoid purchase and use of that product.

    This can only be taught in the class rooms of schools and at family meals. Once we become vigilant. The advertisers become
    truthful as well.

    There was a time when speedo meters on American cars showed higher top speed than the car was able to attain. Then came
    the Volks Wagons on the road in the 60’s with speedometers with very high accuracy. A question was raised by reporters on why
    are Volks Wagons speedometers were so accurate. The response from the manufacturers was, the German population expect what
    the automobile claims to be the truth. If the speedometer says 120 miles per hour maximum. The German will drive it at that speed
    as the Autobahns have no speed limits. If the automobile does not reach the maximum speed shown in the speedometer. They will
    complain and will not purchase that car next time around.

    That is how the population changes the corporate practice.

    Syed W. Hussain

  • Laila  On April 1, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Excellent piece & I completely agree with your opinion of the HBL ad. Its awesome!

  • Shakir Lakhani  On April 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    My 7-year old grandson keeps saying, “Use Master Paint next time”. And the UFONE video showing the donkey is very popular. There was another one with a very pretty girl with a very repulsive voice. I’ve heard that the advertising head of UFONE (who makes these ads) is a very talented woman.


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