Classical Ethics and Modern Advertising and PR

As the realms of public relations and advertising become more digitally based the idea of having a set standard for ethics within those industries seems to be what many in the public would like to see. Currently, the perception of modern public relations and advertising practice is that the industries are amoral and that their intent is to deceive and mislead.

Due to the fact that so many motives can be hidden behind a great Ad campaign or PR platform and the public’s involvement in these forms of communication has been growing, so grows their demand for transparency. The consumer now wants to know if that blogs that endorses Wal-Mart is getting paid or the mom who pushes a certain brand is being compensated. Corporate transparency is becoming an unspoken expectation in today’s communications world. This ideal is one of the reasons that PR and advertising are moving towards a more ethically open environment.

One of the many ethical theories that modern advertising professionals apply is Egoism. Egoism states that an act is moral if and only if it best promotes the long-term self-interest. Many advertising agencies practice egoism by creating controversial campaigns that benefit the brand or client in the long haul. The idea that enlightened self-interest is the basis for many actions within the advertising world might seem like a stretch at first, but once you think it over you can find many examples of egoism in advertising. One example would be the Groupon fiasco after the Super Bowl ads were aired. Although the campaign was tasteless and offensive to many, the brand was discussed in classrooms around the world; Twitter was filled with commentary about the incident; and articles were written in every major newspaper in the country. It got people talking and inevitability the company saw growth, which was the end goal.

Aristotle developed the golden mean theory or virtue-based ethics. With this theory the fact that something is ethical does not necessarily mean that it is the “right” thing to do. In public relations and advertising, virtue based ethics aims to establish equally beneficial relationships between the client and the organization. This approach applies heavily to the world of public relations. Because PR is about relationship building between a client and the public, trust and transparency are required. Although public relations professionals have gotten a bad wrap over the years as “spin-doctors” or liars, public relations professional attempt to maintain their clients’ image while maintaining a sense of open dialogue with the public. Virtue based ethics allows for PR professionals to do this.

Although the approaches of these two strategic fields are different, the end goal is the same: provide the maximum amount of return on investment for the client. With advertising obviously this involves money, however with public relations this return has to do with the public’s view of the organization/company. Proceeding ethically is important for any company or organization specifically those who are in industries that’s success or validity depend on it, such as non-profit charities.

There are so many ethical theories out there that look at the reasonings behind people or organizations’ actions. New ones are being developed daily. In an industry that’s main purpose is to communication a message, whether an advertisement meant to encourage the consumer to purchase a product or a public relations tactic that aims to create a relationship between client and its publics; the main purpose of these industries is to communicate. It is imperative to the future success of these fields that the public feels a sense of trust.


About alexandriabrady210

I am a senior at the University of North Texas studying public relations and marketing. I have strong interests in the Arts, Media and culture. View all posts by alexandriabrady210

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