EVALUATION OF ETHICAL CORRECTNESS OF ADVERTISING
AS AN IMPORTANT FORM OF SOCIAL COMMUNICATION
Throughout our life we live in communication with other people, continually trying to make a favorable impression on other people, and thus we become real advertising specialists as we present ourselves and our relatives. A.Lebedev-Liubimov, leading Russian specialist on Advertising Psychology, determines Advertising in general as a "complex form of communication, interaction and mutual influence… "communication for communications" . Present definition successfully elaborates upon ideas of W.Wells, J.Burnett and S.Moriarty on Advertising as "a form of mass communication" and gives possibility, in our opinion, to consider in every way studies of the Advertising phenomena as one of important directions of research for specialists working in the field of communication.
The most actual problem of contemporary Advertising is its influence on the personal and societal spiritual development, importance for creation of people's values in rapidly globalizing society. Unfortunately, the idea of societal marketing advanced by US marketing experts  fails to find broad understanding within the Russian Advertising community by now. At the same time, growing globalization process poses more and more seriously the question about the social responsibility of business requiring essential consideration of long-term interests of consumers and society as a whole. It is important to note the reciprocity of advertising technologies development process and monitoring of individual rights and living standards of the society, in other words, changes in one direction entails immediately changes in other.
The first step to the creation of advertising control system, the law of Russian Federation "On Advertising"* fails to give any clear recommendations concerning ethical norms in Advertising, and its concepts are vague. This fact gives advertising market participants a possibility to interpret this law in their own way and leads to conflict situation between advertising experts and controlling institutions. Thus the article 8 "Unethical Advertising" states only about the violation of certain conventional humanity and morality norms and about abuse of certain art objects, state symbols, physical and juridical persons, activities and so on. At the same time this law does not determine any clear criteria of mentioned norms and Advertising analysis methods. The real life requires that Russian advertising experts should take some steps for normalization of ethical norms in Advertising. The Russian Council on Advertising adopted Russian Advertising Code where "Ethics in Advertising" is interpreted as a compliance of the form and content of advertising information, conditions, order, time and methods of dissemination with some ethical rules, in other words, with a set of behavioral norms, traditions and moral principles existing in our society. The most important thing is the reference to the "correctness" (art.4). But the Code revealing its notion gives only general prohibition for the information provoking fear, violence and discrimination on racial, ethnic, religious, age or gender groups as well as one strengthening complex of external unattractiveness of teenagers. An inclusion of the article "Children and Advertising" (art.13) preventing different abuses with regard to the individuality of a child into this Code was an important achievement. Undoubtedly this Code is a significant step forward on the path to the creation of societal advertising but we are forced to state that this is only the Second step in the right direction. At the same time some contemporary Russian authors note already that above-mentioned documents, International Code for Advertising and Code of rules and customs of advertising professional use on the territory of Russian Federation, do not provide a real personal psychological security in advertising space since the destructive factors can defy a direct visual control .
The creation of regional public councils on advertising is the Third step. In this phase the absence of carefully developed criteria and mechanisms for Advertising analysis and control from the part of society starts to slow down seriously the process of formation of socially oriented business community adequate to the new level of social organization.
Our advertising specialists are guided by their own understanding of ethics and control institutions - by their own specific notions. There are no clear frameworks today where the system of self-protection of social moral principles will start to work. It becomes particularly clear if we consider the example of mass use of erotic and sexual symbols, gender, national and cultural stereotypes in advertising. This problem is topical not only in Russia but all over the world. So the French government promised recently to apply certain repressive measures to companies using sex in products advertising. It was believed that France where sex was traditionally used in advertising, significantly wider than in any other countries, has passed all bounds. The task of the US National Council for Advertising Control is to change the representation of woman's image in advertising. The similar program also successfully works in Spain. The adoption of resolution "On the image of woman in advertising and media" by European Council in 1996 was a significant achievement in the creation of gender ethical advertising model.
This success became possible due to the development not only of Gender Advertology** but to the intensification of women's movement in Europe.
Critics of the idea of advertising public control in media usually refer to the freedom of press. However, in 2001 the independent research center ROMIR run a public opinion poll on the subject of the Russian citizens' attitude to the control of media. It turned out that the overwhelming majority (71,9%) of citizens agree on the whole with the necessity of information control in media.
What kind of social institutions and with the help of what mechanisms can influence efficiently the process of social ethical advertising creation?
Undoubtedly, the Church can play a considerable role. So, Vatican created the Pontifical Council on Social Communications. This Council develops serious documents concerning ethical problems in advertising. The most interesting is a "Handbook of Catholic church on ethics in advertising". The basic principle followed by the Council in its work is characterized by the thesis about the presence of two choices only for advertising as a social communication: either it contributes to the personal growth in understanding of good and bad things or it becomes a destructive force in conflict with human existence. The Council puts forward an "imperative requirement" that advertising must respect the personality, his/her right to responsible choice, inner freedom. All these rights could be violated if lowest human inclinations are exploited or the personal ability to think and decide independently is compromised.
The Catholic Church even puts forward a thesis about the compensation for the harm caused to society by the non-ethical advertising in the form of certain "reparations". However this proposal is yet insufficiently studied from the legal point of view.
Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church and other prominent confessions in Russia do not pay proper attention to the problem of ethical advertising, its influence on the social consciousness and control of this influence.
Highly educated and responsible specialists in advertising are indispensable guarantors of advertising industry correct behavior: their conscience sensitive to their duties not only serves in the interests of those who order and finance their work but also respects the rights and interests of their audience and serves to social good.
The curriculum for a degree in advertising in Russia sometimes fails to include even a basic course of Psychology in Advertising (which itself needs a considerable improvement and enlargement) not to mention about the educational system for specialists on advertising in the spirit of ethical correctness and social responsibility of business. Currently the author is preparing two textbooks on Psychology in Advertising oriented toward the principle of ethical correctness for publication.
Creation and active introduction of volunteer ethical codes of advertisers is another way to the social ethics in advertising. Thus, in 1998 International Chamber of Commerce declared about the adoption of volunteer Basic trends of interactive marketing and advertising in the field of ethics including protection of users' personal data (let us compare it with absolutely indecorous sale of personal data in Russian market). There is no general specialized Ethical Code or Code of professional behavior in the US Advertising industry. This fact can be explained in general by the First amendment to the US Constitution protecting rights to communication, and advertising being a sort of communication.
The closest document by its meaning is an Advertising Code adopted by the US Council of bureaus for better business.
The other Russian example is creation of Ethical Code of political advertising on the threshold of election campaign in 2000. The draft Code proclaimed the basic principle. In accordance with this principle "political advertising must be legal and appropriate and not to be a cause of any social harm" and that is all.
It is necessary to emphasize the importance of the most active public participation in this activity. Primarily activists of non-profit organizations must participate in the creation, application and periodical improvement of ethical codes in advertising. Specialists in Ethics, clergymen and activists of consumers' associations must be among these public representatives.
The problem of public control of advertising needs a regular coverage in specialized media.
"Advertising & Society Review" published by Advertising Education Foundation highlighting social and economical effects produced by advertising on the society and representing a wide spectrum of opinions can be a sample of such US magazine.
It is necessary to carry out the analysis of correctness in advertising in a form of monitoring. This can provide an opportunity to block a channel of negative influence on the person and society as a whole in every moment. General methodical principles of this analysis are clearly phrased by specialists in the field of Psychology in Advertising: "the expertise of advertising texts correctness starts by the analysis of direct affective reaction to the publication. The negative or ambivalent emotional state means unfavorable influence… An acute negative reaction arises in case of intuitively sensed threat for vital tenets, inwardly non-contradictory system of values". "Psychotechnical matrix of advertising impact", an efficient assistance to this analysis, was created and tested to consider the advertising influence on consumer's personal psychology for monitoring.
At the same time when we pose the problem of ethical correctness in advertising in the wide sense with the aim of consideration of all spectrum of influence on the society as a whole, we discover the absence of unified complex of principles which can provide rapid and qualified monitoring organized by public institutes.
There were some attempts to regulate this problem. Thus, Larry Colero from "Crossroads Programs Inc." proposed his complex of so-called "universal ethical principles" for their application in analysis of culture, philosophy and professional activity. All principles fall into three basic categories: personal (care for people's good, respect to the people's autonomy, reliability and honesty, willingness to obey the law, to be fair, refusal to unfair advantages, benevolence, harm prevention), professional (impartiality, objectivity, total openness, confidentiality, proper diligence, solicitude, professional responsibility, avoiding of potential or real conflict of interests) and global ethics (global justice, public interests exceed personal/social responsibility, ecological economy, mutual dependence, "responsibility for all" principle). This complex of ethical principles was evaluated as positive by great number of professionals, businessmen and students in Africa, Asia, America, Europe.
At the present time we try to develop this subject. As a first stage the author suggests his working version of ethical correctness evaluation in advertising in the form of complex of principles (see Annex).
It remains to note that the author of this article have organized a master-class on this subject within the framework of International Summer School "Communication in action" in July, 2003 in Rostov-on-Don.
- Лебедев-Любимов А.Н. Психология рекламы. СПб.: Питер, 2002. С.7. (A.N. Lebedev-Liubimov.Psychology of Advertising. St.-Petersburg, 2002. P. 7)
- Уэллс У., Бернет Дж., Мориарти С. Реклама: принципы и практика. СПб.: Питер, 1999. С.36. (W. Wells, J. Burnett, S. Moriarty. Advertising: principles and practice. St.-Petersburg, 1999. P.36)
- Котлер Ф.,Армстронг Г., Сондерс Д., Вонг В. Основы маркетинга. М.; СПб.; К.: Изд. дом "Вильямс", 1999 (Ph. Cotler, G. Armstrong, D. Sonders, W. Wong. Principles of Marketing. Moscow, St.-Petersburg, Kiev: Publishing house "Viliams", 1999)
- Пронина Е.Е. Психологическая экспертиза рекламы. М.: "РИП-холдинг", 2002. С. 8. (E.E. Pronina. Psychological expertise of Advertising. Moscow: "RIP-holding", 2002. P.8)
- Ibid. P.43.
- Ibid. P.28-29
Complex of ethical correctness principles in Advertising:
The real advertising practice requires more detailed development of parameters for the ethical evaluation of advertising. In this connection we consider possible to propose our own version of advertising analysis in the field of the influence on the society. We created an approximate complex of ethical correctness principles in Advertising:
- Personal ethical correctness (with respect to individual consumer's qualities).
- Gender ethical correctness
- Sexual ethical correctness (with respect to use of sexual and erotic symbols in Advertising (in quantitative and qualitative sense)).
- Age ethical correctness (with respect to senior people or youth)
- Racial ethical correctness
- National and cultural ethical correctness.
- Confessional ethical correctness (with respect to consumers' religious beliefs).
- Legal ethical correctness (with respect to observance of all laws and norms, human rights including competitors).
- Non-violence ethical correctness (with respect to use of themes of conflict, violence, abridgement of other people's rights).
- Language ethical correctness (including the use of words incomprehensible for the most part of consumers or non-normative use of words and also ethics of style: use of lexicon indecorous with respect to conventional communication style).
- Children's ethical correctness
- Ethical correctness for people with disabilities.
- Political ethical correctness (with respect to organs of power, political regime, state symbols, political parties)
- Environmental ethical correctness (with respect to environmental problems highlighting (in general sense).
- Ethical correctness for animals
- Historical ethical correctness (with respect to historical events).
- Geographical ethical correctness (with respect to specific places of residence for different consumer groups).
- Color ethical correctness (with respect to color hygiene).
- Sound ethical correctness (with respect to use of very loud/quiet sound design).
- Graphic ethical correctness (with respect to use of graphic means, inconvenient (indecorous) for perception of the most part of consumers).
The qualitative evaluation for each parameter can be carried out using this simple scale:
a) ethically indecorous advertising;
b) insufficiently correct advertising;
c) sufficient level of ethical correctness, with remarks;
d) ethically correct advertising.
The advertising analysis with present parameters provides an opportunity to use a concept of Ethical Correctness Index (ECI). For example "2a3b15c" means that present advertising or advertising campaign as a whole is "indecorous from the point of view of Gender, insufficiently correct sexually, but sufficiently correct with respect to animals"). Respectively the more marks as "c" or "d" will be given by the public commission on advertising, the higher will be the ethical correctness level of present company, the sooner it will obtain approval and right to use it for the improvement of its own image in the society***. It should be noted that the use of this complex of principles and Ethical Correctness Index will be possible also for general marketing politics evaluation of the company. We think this can be a convenient mechanism for detailed advertising expertise (and business as a whole) not only for one company but for all business community on the regional and national levels.
As for criteria for each parameter of ethical correctness advertising evaluation, the organization of additional specialized social and psychological research on high international level is necessary for the creation of balanced criteria complex mandatory for all participants of global business community.
In our opinion the International Chamber of Commerce under the aegis of World Trade Organization (WTO) is among different organizations capable of creating and introducing this complex with involvement of independent specialists and public representatives. This problem should become the key subject in organization of specialized international conference on ethical correctness problem in social communication.
* * *
In his article author considers principles of the creation of socially ethical advertising as a form of mass communication. The importance of principles of universality and public participation in this problem resolution are emphasized. At the same time he raises the problem of the creation of international complex of ethical correctness evaluation criteria in advertising.
In the Annex the author suggests his complex of "ethical advertising principles" and "ethical correctness index" for the analysis of advertising activity organized by governmental and public councils on advertising.
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