Staff Writer: Greta Frusha
Changing attitudes about advertising and promoting a sense of ethical responsibility in online advertising have captured the limelight. Consumers have expressed concern and a need for commercial information to be expressed in an ethical manner.
A Harris Poll has shown only one in five consumers believe that advertising can be trusted most of the time. An expert panel consisting of peers in the advertising agencies Los Angeles discussed ethical dilemmas faced in the professional advertising world. Wally Snyder, Executive Director, Institute for Advertising Ethics; Visiting Professor, Missouri School of Journalism considered these to be the three most challenging issues.
First, there has been a blurring of lines between advertising and the news, editorials, and entertainment. Secondly there has been a failure to disclose material connections. This would consist of compensation or employment that affects product endorsements in blogs and social media. Thirdly, a need to protect consumers’ privacy along with choice of participation in online behavioral tracking and targeting has gained importance in the eyes of consumers.
In the discussion, the panel targeted these three issues while considering government regulations and guidance provided by the Institute’s Principles and Practices for Advertising Ethics. They examined specific illustrations of improper and proper ethical conduct will be examined They also examined issues that were raised by the audience during the panel discussion.
The panel analyzed three cases indicative of the three issues that were deemed challenging. The first case looked at and analyzed was video from YouTube.com. These were before and after video for Bluetooth headsets that were found to be an ad presented as entertainment.
The second case was an investigation done by the Los Angeles Times. They alleged that a series of online stories were done by a fictitious journalist and was actually paid PR for the Central Municipal Water District in LA.
The third case consisted of where a Federal Trade Commission action shut down six online fake news sites that were in fact paid ads that were giving objective news on weight loss. The panel also reviewed ethical implications of online transactions that involved children which included privacy implications.
Included were views presented by advertising practitioners and advertising students on the dilemmas that these cases posed. By including their take on the presented issues, the panel was able to present a more cross-generational view of each case both in importance and application. Other topics considered were how advertising agencies along with their ad and PR agencies, and media companies could start to establish an internal atmosphere that would promote practicing high ethical standards.
Many advertising agencies in Los Angeles need to be aware of this growing cynicism toward advertising and be able to adapt to avoid losing consumers. Consumers are calling for fair and ethical advertising, becoming concerned that they are being targeted unfairly by companies promoting products and services falsely. By calling attention to these three key issues and the corresponding cases, this panel has opened the way to address ethical behavior or the lack of in online advertising.