Short Paper 8-2
Advertising and Ethics
Southern New Hampshire University
SHORT PAPER 8-2
Following the release of a client’s advertisement, a high end women’s fashion line, the client received sharp criticism for its use of violence and sexuality in the advertisement featured in Esquire magazine. The advertisement featured a woman scantily clad in line’s couture lying on her back with a man holding her down and three others looking on. The National Organization for Women was disturbed by the ad and charged that the suggestion that a gang rape is about to occur is unethical in the use of advertising. This paper will review the advertisement in terms of ethical principles and morality. Furthermore, this paper will formulate a response to the criticism received from the National Organization for Women. Sexuality and violence in the media have been a topic of intense debate and controversy for decades and much research has been done on the impact the use of violent, sexual imagery in regards to women has upon society. Although advertising is meant to grab the attention of a consumer, doing so in this manner is in direct contrast with certain business ethics principles and codes of professional ethics. The Kantian approach, which asserts that the only good, ethical behavior is an action of the will freely motivated for the right reason (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009), and thereby, “advertising should never treat its audience or spokesperson as merely means” (Bowie, Klein, Laczniak, & Murphy, p. 178). When considering this client’s particular advertisement, it is clear that it conflicts with this ethical principle. The use of women as sexual objects and portrayed in violent situations as a means to attract more attention is not done for ethical reasons and uses women as a means to an end.
SHORT PAPER 8-2 The Utilitarian approach to ethics is most often used to evaluate advertising and focuses upon the outcomes associated with human actions. These outcomes are assessed based on terms of the impact of their consequences (Donaldson and Werhane, 1999). Considering the negative impact that the use of sexuality and women can have upon society in regards to the value of women as human beings and increased aggression in those exposed to this imagery (Anderson, et al, 2003), this particular advertisement is not ethically or morally sound. Devaluing women, promoting sexual violence, or the use of women as objects to satisfy are not desirable outcomes and thereby, unethical. For future advertisements, I recommend that the client develop a framework for ethical principles and how they are implemented. As is shown in “Ethical