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Ethics in Advertising: How to Create Responsible and Transparent Advertising Campaigns?

Ethics in Advertising: How to Create Responsible and Transparent Advertising Campaigns?

Ethics in Advertising: How to Create Responsible and Transparent Advertising Campaigns?

Every advertisement is an informational message, but not every informational message is an advertisement. This distinction is significantly important when creating advertising campaigns. In an era where consumer awareness is high, creating transparent and responsible campaigns should be the goal of every company selling goods and services. What should be remembered to ensure that advertising messages are ethical?

What is the Advertising Ethics Code?

The Advertising Ethics Code (AEC) is a fundamental document created by the Association of Advertising Councils and the Advertising Ethics Committee. It is not a legal document but rather a set of principles that, according to the Association and the Committee, should be adhered to by every advertising company. An exception is made for the creation of social and political campaigns, which are not subject to these principles. The AEC contains very detailed provisions that prohibit, among other things, presenting discriminatory behaviors based on age, gender, religion, or nationality, as well as promoting acts of violence or behaviors that abuse the trust of the recipient or exploit their lack of experience or knowledge. Its aim is to protect consumers from unethical advertising messages. The Advertising Ethics Code regulates all aspects related to advertising communication while taking into account the specificities of different media. In short, it defines what is permissible in advertising and what is unethical.

But what constitutes an unethical advertising message?

You can find the full text of the AEC on the website:

Ethical Advertising: What Is It?

The answer to this question is not easy because it must take into account cultural aspects and the geolocation in which the advertisement is aired. What may be considered offensive in Poland, such as offending religious feelings, may be entirely neutral in another secular country.

In the 1990s, advertising tobacco products was entirely normal. Currently, there is a ban on advertising such products, and beer advertisements are subject to additional regulations (similar to advertisements targeting children or promoting cosmetics) to protect consumers from addictions and other health or life-threatening risks.

On the other hand, transparent advertising is one that hides nothing. Its entire message is clear, and it’s obvious what it’s about. A good example is advertisements for loans or credits, where all costs should be shown, or the consumer should be informed that the advertisement does not present all costs and that they should inquire for more details at the bank.

When creating an advertisement, it must comply with the ethical code of the group to which the message is directed. Let’s take a look at what the AEC contains and what its most important assumptions are.

Ethical Advertising According to the AEC

In the full document of the Advertising Ethics Code, we can find the following guidelines:

  • Advertising must not be misleading.
  • Ethical advertising promotes responsible practices and responds to the challenges of potential consumers.
  • It presents generally accepted social principles and values and adheres to them.
  • It must not motivate purchases by invoking fear through depicting random situations (e.g., accidents, illnesses).
  • It must be easy to identify – hidden advertising is prohibited.
  • It must not mislead in many aspects, including composition, price, or origin.
  • Quotations used in advertisements must be labeled with the source of the quote.
  • It must not use a person’s image without their consent.
  • It must not create the impression that a product is free if it is not.
  • If a product is potentially dangerous, consumers must be informed about it.
  • Animals must not be depicted in an objectified manner.
  • In advertisements targeting children and young people, it must not suggest that the product is suitable for every household budget.
  • Advertisements for children and young people must not undermine parental authority – with the exception of advertisements drawing attention to social pathologies, although such advertisements are often treated as social campaigns not covered by the AEC.

Furthermore, advertising must not suggest that purchasing a particular product will improve mental health, nor should it give the impression that one will be better than others (a particularly important aspect in advertising targeting young people).

There are many examples of companies that have violated some of the above principles. The result was the need to cease advertising, sometimes fines, and experiencing a reputational crisis.

Why Create Responsible Campaigns?

We’ve already mentioned that consumers are becoming increasingly aware because advertisements are everywhere. Therefore, they are very sensitive to dishonest practices, such as hidden advertising. Currently, what’s important for millennials and younger generations is CSR, which stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, and environmental care. Additionally, consumers want to identify with the companies from which they purchase goods. Therefore, showing in an advertisement that one cares about the environment and uses recycled materials is a huge advantage for a company. Of course, it must be genuine action, not just Greenwashing, i.e., eco-deception.

In the digital age, where information is conveyed in just a few seconds, any slip-up or poor advertisement quickly damages a company’s image. This contributes to crises, which are sometimes very difficult to overcome, and regaining trust takes a lot of time. The fewer crises, the more benefits for the company – especially in the long term. When creating an advertisement, one should look not only at the context of selling a particular product but also at creating a company image that brings long-term benefits.

Our agency has been creating OOH, DOOH, and transit advertisements in many Polish cities for years, which are consumer-friendly and compliant with the AEC. We ensure that our clients are aware of how ethical and socially responsible advertising should look. This is the responsibility of our specialists, who are sensitive to individual issues. If you also want to create ethical, responsible, and transparent advertising, contact us.

We’ve described the importance of corporate transparency and their ethical code in our report “Post-COVID Consumer Trends, or What Consumers Expect from Companies.” To read it, sign up for our newsletter and receive the report completely for free.



BE Media

We provide comprehensive service and implementation of Out-of-home advertising . Thanks to years of experience we know where to find your potential customers and what means to use to draw the attention to your advertising. The confidence that brands have in us is not unfounded – we simply implement effective campaigns. Despite the multitude of media in various parts of the city, we are not obtrusive. Our adverts are not very invasive – both for the user and for the urban landscape. They do not irritate but intrigue the audience. In our opinion, this is the best way for the campaign to be saved in the memory of a potential client.