Ethical Practices in the Advertising: Deontology and Utilitarianism

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In this assignment, I will be talking about if there are problems and morals issues with advertising. I would be referring back to Banksy’s passage and if I agree with what he has said. I am also going to be talking about which ethical theory which would link best to the advertisement. The two ethical theories which can be applied to advertising is Deontology and Utilitarianism. Deontology is an ethical system that judges, whether an action is right or wrong based on moral code, and the consequences of the action, are not taken into account. This ethical theory looks at being precise and going by the book. This would mean doing the right thing and to follow rules and behavior and by promoting fairness and equality. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which states that a course of action should be taken into consideration by looking at the most best and positive outcome. Looking at both of the ethical theories I feel that deontology would be the best ethical theory for advertisement as it looks at the consequences of the action which should be thought about course of the advertisement.

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The advertising world has been known a bad reputation when it comes to ethical practices. As there are loads of advertisements and many of them can be controversial. This is because advertisers are always trying to push the boundaries of what should be “acceptable” in society. This is because it is the advertiser’s ultimate goal to sell something and make the maximum amount of profit from it. However, without having boundaries it may cause a negative impact on advertising, and the public responds undesirably towards the advertisement. Nevertheless, if the advertisement is being seen as offensive and discriminative towards the general public thus responding unpleasantly. This in turn, would mean that advertisers must reflect on traditional ethical theories in their decision-making process when creating messages that the public would be able to view.

Referring back to Banksy’s passage where he/she states that the advertisers are bullying you with what they are showing such as “They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate” this implies that even being in a relationship they may feel insecure about themselves. In the eyes of the beauty advertisement world, women are portrayed to look a certain way and if not, they are not pretty in society’s eyes. This could cause effects on makeup brands as they use celebrities to endorse their products causing the general public to want to look and be like them and getting bullied for not looking in that way. This could cause them to have psychological problems as teenagers and small girls are getting bullied for looking different to what is advertised. This goes against the deontology theory as they are not looking at the consequences of what is being portrayed and what is being shown to young girls. For the beauty industry to follow the ethical theory they should use a range of women and think what the consequences of their advertisement would be as they should try to cause a positive effect on people as the platform and audience to do so.

There are businesses that take ethics into consideration with their advertisement, ensuring that their campaign has a positive effect on people and empowering them with it. This goes against Banksy’s passage as he/she says the campaigns are all bad and “they make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough” however, there are also brands that try to make the public feel good about themselves. One of the most famous examples is Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which was started in 2004 by a company called Unilever. Dove promoted the act of defining “real beauty” and standing against superficiality, this is most dominant in the advertising industry today. In 2013, Dove released “Real Beauty Sketches,” which became the most-watched advertisement ever. This indicates that there are positive effects of advertising and allowing women of all different ages, colors, and sizes to not feel segregated in today’s society. This in turn supports the deontology ethical theory as they have examined the consequences of the campaign and have attempted to make a positive impact.

Nevertheless, there should be scrutiny about the advertiser’s only goal being to sell something and make the most from it. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s deontological theory, the Categorical Imperative, states that one must treat others as ends instead of using them as means to an end. Dove is eventually trying to sell their products. Notwithstanding, the message is positive and good for society, money and sales are the bottom lines; companies use people as means to make money.

However, only a couple of businesses try to make the right ethical concept for advertisement. There are many items that I believe shouldn’t be advertised at all, this consists of brands that may be seen as unethical; such as brands that advertise alcohol and cigarettes. This is because in the advertisement sector there are no boundaries as to who can view what. Therefore, such adverts would encourage underaged people to try these products, and people who are trying to stop and have issues with these products it would encourage them to keep consuming them. This wouldn’t comply with the deontology theory as these businesses aren’t taking into consideration the greater good of the campaign as they are only interested in increasing sales and making a profit from the product even though it causes a physical and psychological threat to the people who are consuming them, such as long-term health illnesses such cancer. Therefore, I believe that these products shouldn’t be advertised or be shown to anyone under the age of consumption.

Finally, while conducting research I was able to investigate how race can be a big factor not only to the people viewing the advertisement but to what is advertised. “When it comes to race, 35% of the sample feel the Asian community is being underrepresented. Just under a third (31%) note a lack of mixed-race people in advertising, while 27% feel black people are not being adequately portrayed. These assertions are confirmed by an analysis of the campaigns, which finds black people appeared in 5.65% of the adverts, mixed-race people in 3.86%, and Asian people in just 2.71%.”. This illustrates that there is a race difference in the advertisement industry making people of different race feel out casted and not a part of society. As Banksy said in the passage “People are taking the piss out of you every day. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you, and then disappear” this could be applied to different races as advertisers are leaving them out and in some sense bully them of being a different color to what they advertise. This also does not support the ethical theory of deontology, as the consequences of this are bad and haven’t looked at the reasons behind this as to why they are bad.

In conclusion, I have given a few examples about ethical theories that can be applied in the advertising situation. For advertisers, I believe it is very important to understand the theories truly, so they are able to make informed and ethical decisions when the advertisers are trying to communicate with their audience. However, ethics does not always give answers to moral problems and different ethical theories may apply to different advertising situations, but if advertisers use ethical practices, they can deliver their messages to society with more carefulness and taking into consideration the consequences and the actions of the advertisement.

Relating back to the question of which I started with “Is Banksy right that there is something morally problematic about the advertising of this kind?” Conducting research and reading through Banksy’s passage has made me understand that Banksy was right and that advertisement has no ethics or morals behind them which should be changed, as this is viewed and have an impact on everyone. Therefore, I believe by bringing in the concept of deontology, it would be beneficial as the people who make the advertisement should think of the action of it, and if it is good or bad for the audience to see the consequences that they are behind they are leaving. Having campaigns such as, the dove campaign is favorable for the audience and leaves behind a positive impression on viewers. With this campaign that has been taken with the correct moral and ethical approach and I believe that all the other campaigns should follow the same direction. However, if the product which is being shown cannot be portrayed in a positive light such as alcohol, Tobacco, and sugary drinks should not be advertised at all as they are viewed by everyone of all age ranges. For that reason, I believe that the overall health of the audience should be considered before the advertisement is aired. The information that is publicized leads to awareness and action that is transformational within the society as a whole.


  1. BBC, 2014, Duty based ethics, (Accessed on 14/01/19)
  2. McCombs School of Business, 2019, ethics unwrapped (Accessed on 14/01/19)
  3. Banksy passage, 2012, Banksy on advertising, (Accessed on 16/01/19)
  4. Marissa Florindi, 2013, Dove Real Beauty sketches most viewed online ad (Accessed on 16/01/19)
  5. Professor Elizabeth Anscombe, 2001, kantian ethics, (Accessed on 18/01/19)
  6. Giselle Abramovich, 2018, 15 Mind-Blowing Stats About Advertising, (Accessed on 19/01/19)
29 April 2022

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