By Wally Snyder

During the past two semesters I have brought together International advertising leaders with professors and students at the Missouri School of Journalism to study and promote the role of Advertising Ethics. My working proposition is that the proactive consideration of ethics in our ad campaigns will enhance consumer trust and brand loyalty, especially in this time of unprecedented consumer control over the commercial information they choose to receive. I am indebted to the contributions made by our students in helping us to understand the importance of ethics to consumers and to our industry, as well as the most salient concerns expressed by marketers and consumers.

We are designing a Global Forum on “The Principles for Ethical Advertising“to bring top advertising executives (CEOs, CMO’s, COO’s, CFO’s, EVPs, SVPs, and VPs) from around the world to share their experiences and ethical concerns. We turned to four student teams in the Capstone program to develop a strategic plan for planning and promoting the Global Forum to include: (1) ascertain the three to five “Hot Buttons” regarding ad ethics that will bring these busy executives to our forum; (2) develop a marketing plan to communicate the importance of the forum to this targeted audience; and (3) Lay out an interactive Web site to facilitate communication on speakers and events. Judges for Capstone team presentations were Rance Crain, Bill Price and myself.

The Global Forum became the client for these advertising majors who used the experience to help them prepare for “real world of advertising” clients. I was privileged to be their client contact and had the opportunity to meet with them monthly as they conducted research and prepared their respective plans. I am so impressed with the professionalism and enthusiasm each of the students brought to the project. Their recommendations and work product were simply outstanding. The written portfolios contain facts and recommendations that are finely honed and professionally presented. The oral recommendations
delivered on April 28, 2009, were done with the skill and confidence that bode well for the future of our ad industry.

In order to ascertain the “Hot Buttons” that would draw top executives to our forum each team was charged with collecting secondary research on Advertising Ethics, including a literature search on extant advertising ethical codes from around the world. In addition they collectively conducted online surveys with follow up telephone interviews of the beliefs of consumers, marketers, and advertising majors.

The primary research is proving invaluable as we develop our advertising ethics program. Consumers, marketers and ad majors all believe ethics in advertising to be very important; “honest advertising” was the top ranked aspect by consumers they felt would make a company ethical. The groups also concurred that advertising is not as ethical as it should be. The Capstone student teams also branded the forum and recommended advertising “selling points” to promote it. The designed Web sites were all attractive and very functional for interacting with our targeted audience. Significant recommendations also included conducting the Global Forum as an online conference to minimize costs and maximize attendance.

As the Capstone client we received outstanding advertising agency advice on planning and marketing our conference. At the same time, I believe the students, as advertising majors, participated in an Advertising Ethics curriculum that prepared them well for the new world of advertising.

Strategic Campaign (J4970) Class Assignment

Assignment: Develop a strategic plan for planning and promoting the Global Forum to include:

A. Ascertain the three to five salient concerns ("Hot Buttons") regarding Advertising Ethics that will draw top advertising executives (CEOs, CMO's, COO's, CFOs, EVPs, SVPs, VPs) to our forum next fall. Each student team will do the following:

1. Collect secondary research on the topic of Advertising Ethics, including, but not limited to, its importance to professionals and consumers; its importance in building consumer trust; and its relationship to behavioral marketing, prescription drug advertising, social networking, multicultural adverting claims, and international advertising concerns.

2. Conduct a literature search on extant advertising ethical codes in America and from around the world.

3. Each student team will conduct 20 interviews of one of the following assigned groups to be studied to determine their salient concerns regarding Advertising Ethics: (1) Advertising Professionals; (2) Consumers; (3) Advertising Students; and (4) Health Care Professionals. The results of each team’s interviews will be shared with all of the student teams.

B. Each student team will develop a marketing plan to communicate the importance of the Global Forum to our targeted audience, to include, but not be limited to, promotional claims; all graphics to be employed; and promotional vehicles to be employed. The advertising budget allocated is $50,000 to $100,000.

C. Each student team will design an interactive Web site that will provide (1) all information on the Global Forum – program, speakers, events – and (2) serve as the official Web site for the Advertising Ethics Program at the University of Missouri. This includes “branding” the forum, letter head, and forum invitations. Interactive characteristics to include a blog page.

J4970 Strategic Campaign Teams
Relevance MediaB&G Advertising (Janet Enloe’s Class)Todd Fuller’s ClassGlen Cameron’s Class
Courtney Cox
Toni Reneker
Ginger Scott
Megan O’Leary
Tadao Leunammachack
Megan Maupin
Emily Gillardi
Daniel Vandever
Brian Stobach
Zack Swyers
Sara Luckow
Kayleigh Koremczak
Nancy Anderson
Hunter Gould
Marion Brewer

By Wally Snyder


During the Spring Semester 2009 Four Capstone student teams conducted primary and secondary research into the importance and stature of ethics in adverting. Collectively the groups studied the beliefs of consumers, marketers, and advertising majors. The primary research, which is summarized here, consisted of online surveys with follow-up interviews. While not representative (see survey methodologies) the work shows beliefs and attitudes that are consistent and worthy of follow-up surveys.

All three groups believe ethics in advertising to be very important for consumers and the advertising profession; advertising students held the highest level of belief in its importance. The groups also concurred in the belief that advertising is not as ethical as it should be. The students and consumer groups felt most strongly with marketers concurring that “it could use more improvement.” “Hot Button” issues to work on included: Advertising to Children; Advertising of Unhealthy or harmful products; Advertising that is invasive to privacy; Political Advertising; and direct to consumer prescription drug advertising (DTCA). Solutions to advancing ethics in advertising included an industry wide code, drafted with care, and an enhanced advertising ethics curriculum on campus.

The Importance of Ethics in Advertising

Consumers, marketers and advertising majors all ranked the importance of advertising ethics as very high. Out of the 214 consumers surveyed+ 44.3% believe advertisers should be punished for producing unethical ads. The top three aspects that would make a company ethical are honesty, fairness and trust. Most of the interviewed consumers also claimed they would be more likely to buy the products featured in ads if the company was ethical. Also, honest advertising was the top ranked aspect that would make a company ethical (89.1%) followed by socially responsible (80.1%) and environmentally friendly (58.8%).

Of the marketers surveyed2 53% believe ethics is “very important” to professionals in the ad industry and 43% believe it is “somewhat important. “Building consumer trust” was seen by 42% of the sample as the greatest benefit from advertising ethics. Of the advertising majors surveyed+++ an overwhelming 86.4 % said advertising ethics was important to them and important to consumers. Reasons given included that people will pay more for an ethically produced product; will boycott an unethical one; and it is easy to access information on the internet.

How Ethical is advertising

Advertising received low marks from consumers, marketers and advertising majors. The majority of consumers surveyed (33.2%) did not trust advertising or believe it to be honest. With regard to consumer perception of prescription drug advertising (DTCA)4 the majority of respondents (61%) do not trust the information presented in the ads, and 44% have also viewed a DTCA ad that they knew was incorrect, misleading, or had left out information.

Most marketers expressed the current state of ethics in the advertising industry as “it could use more improvement”. Phrases like “secondary issue” and “not as good as it could be” were used to describe the current state along with concern that a declining economy and recession could cause more problems.

On a scale of 1 to 10 – with 1 being completely unethical and 10 being completely ethical – advertising majors provided a mean response of 5.86. “The average shows the poor image the advertising industry has.” (Comment of Student Team)

Of the advertising majors surveyed3 an overwhelming 86.4 % +said advertising ethics was important to them and important to consumers. Reasons given included that people will pay more for an ethically produced product; will boycott an unethical one; and it is easy to access information on the internet.

Advertising Issues to Tackle (“Hot Buttons”)

From the marketers point of view (close-ended), political advertising (more than half), targeting children and the elderly; and tobacco were seen as the most pressing ethical issues in advertising; multicultural and behavioral targeting not seen as significant.

The three ethical issues most prevalent to the advertising majors are advertising to children; Advertising of unhealthy or harmful products; and Advertising that is invasive to privacy – collaboratively accounted for over 75% of the responses. Notable also were “stealth marketing”, such as product placement, or other advertising that is hard for the customer to identify as advertising, and advertising with sensitivity to minority or gender groups (“Stereotyping”).

Other than expressing the top three general issues that would make a company ethical (honesty, fairness and trust), “Consumers don’t really understand what it means to be ethical.” However, individual answers to open-ended questions did include PETA and Dolce and Cabbana ads where women were displayed in sexual situations. Also, the high percentage of consumers surveyed who did not trust DTCA ads (61%) would indicate that this is a major area of ethical concern.

Solutions to Advance Advertising Ethics

75.6% of the consumers surveyed believed that advertising should have standards or a code for ethical advertising. In the follow-up phone interviews of marketing professionals, “All agreed that a blanket code would be a step in the right direction; however it was noted that much forethought is needed, and that those who ignore ethics would also ignore the code. Health care professionals interviewed in the DTCA survey said DCT ads should be held to different ethical standards than other advertised products. 81.8% of the advertising majors surveyed concluded that an Ethics in Advertising class would be useful for their education and knowledge of the industry.

Footnotes on Research Methodologies

1. Consumer research: Online survey on Survey Monkey followed by 13 personal interviews with open-ended questions. Demographics across all ages, but majority of survey respondents were 21-30 years old.
2. Marketers: Online survey with advertising executives obtained from Missouri School of Journalism alumni; follow-up phone interviews with interested professionals to clarify and speak more personally. There were 21 survey respondents from 16 different cities. Most prevalent respondents were account executives (6) and chief executives (6). The median of years spent in the field was 24.5 and the mean of years spent was 22.1 years.
3. Advertising Majors: Online survey directed to Advertising Students in the Missouri School of Journalism, Strategic Communications Majors – freshman to recent graduates, male and female.
4. DTCA Research: Online survey with 23 consumer respondents.

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