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SMU 102 - Session 10: Advertising Ethics & the Law

Purpose/Aim of this session

This session is an introduction to on the areas of ethics and regulatory laws when it comes to brand messages. We will be looking at this subject in great detail in Level 2 of the course.

For now, your will develop an understanding of how brand communication works within a heavily regulated framework. Some brand industries - like the health & beauty sector, pharmaceuticals, food & drink, alcohol & tobacco, education, legal, finance & banking, etc - work within tightly controlled marketing and advertising parameters. It's another aspect of the confined space.

A copywriter must understand what claims s/he can legally make. A copywriter must also know the body of evidence that s/he must provide to prove the benefit claims for a brand. This will depend upon the industry regulations a brand's industry sector operates under. That's the legal side of this session.

Ethics is a far more subtle area to investigate. The USP for the SMU's series of courses is our focus on good global citizenship and social responsibility. These are two important facets of brand ethics.

Ethics in this sense can cover a wide territory of subjects:

  • gender portrayal and stereotypes
  • sexist attitudes and sexuality stereotypes
  • the use of sex to promote a brand
  • race and racial stereotypes
  • cultural stereotypes
  • marketing aimed at children and teens
  • the use or portrayal of religion
  • protecting our customers' personal data
  • the claims we make about a product or service (is 'healthy' and/or 'natural' really healthy and/or natural?)
  • who we send our messages to and how we package those messages (for example,  payday loans to low income households)
  • predatory behaviour - 'targeting' people rather than striking up conversations with genuinely interested parties who have the strongest likelihood of wanting to engage with our brands
  • intentionally and unintentionally misleading people through false claims
  • vague statements, guarantees or assurances

There are many more!

Learning Aims for this session:

  • You will explore and analyze introductory concepts around advertising laws and ethics
  • You will develop an ability to identify legal problems involving aspects of brand messages
  • You will explore and analyze brand messaging ethics and law and their relationship to good corporate global citizenship and social responsibility

Learning Outcomes for this session:

At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Think critically about ethical dilemmas as well as ethical and regulatory impacts on brand messages
  • Understand relevant concepts: public right to know, privacy, fairness, truth telling, deception, objectivity, professionalism, accountability, sensationalism, etc.
  • Critically examine the relationships between advertising law, ethics and brand messages

How this Session Works:

  1. Read through the Overview that accompanies this session. This provides an overall context for the session
  2. Work your way through the items on the Preparatory section that accompanies this session
  3. Listen to the Lecture that accompanies this session
  4. Work your way through the branding scenarios in the "Scenario" tab. Scenarios are practical activities to develop your critical thinking and apply your knowledge to a specific component of copywriting
  5. There isn't a Template for this session. Instead, research the advertising and marketing regulations that impacts your brand's industry. We have provided resources to aide your research in the "Regulatory Resources" tab.
  6. You can browse through some carefully selected material in the "Reading Room" tab. These materials will build upon your knowledge of copywriting regulations and ethics

SMU 102 Session 10 Study Activities

  • Overview
  • Preparatory Activities
  • Lecture
  • Scenarios
  • Regulatory Resources
  • Reading Room

The video above is the perfect summary of this session. As the managers of brands, it is important that we make every effort to ensure that our brand and our business or service is represented ethically. Failure to do so results in lack of trust. In short, it is a reputation destroyer.

At this point, let's quickly cover the difference between ethics and the law:

  • ETHICS deal with personal moral principles and values; and

  • LAWS are society's values and standards that are enforceable in the courts

It's worth noting at this point that ethics, like laws, differ from country to country. Ethics also differ within different cultures and groups within the same country. This is an aspect we will explore in much more depth in Level 2 of the course.

The videos within this session are focuses on building your knowledge and practice in the area of brand messaging ethics. Information about marketing and advertising regulations has been provided in the additional resources section. The legal information also covers the disclaimers, legal caveats and other information that certain industries must include in their brand messaging. The legal information within this session is UK-specific.

The resources we've provided also cover a more subtle form of ethics in advertising: putting better values, social values and inspiring messages in branding messages. In short, promoting positive messages over destructive messages. This is a message touched on in the two videos below.

Read More

The preparatory activities below will develop your critical thinking, analysis and understanding around the issues of brand communications and ethics.

  1. The International Charter (ICharter) is an organization dedicated to the promotion of business through the establishment of best practice and policy. It provides assistance and governance for businesses across the world, helping to establish trust and raising standards, irrespective of industry or geographic location. Below is a set of standards it has authored for advertising, which should guide best practice across the brand communications spectrum:

    EAS-405 - Ethical Advertising Standard:
  2. Ethical marketing is less of a marketing strategy and more of a philosophy that informs all marketing efforts. It seeks to promote honesty, fairness, and responsibility in all advertising. Ethics is a notoriously difficult subject because everyone has subjective judgments about what is "right" and what is "wrong." For this reason, ethical marketing is not a hard and fast list of rules, but a general set of guidelines to assist companies as they evaluate new marketing strategies. The article below covers this topic, and outlines the principles of ethical brand communications. Ethical Marketing.
  3. The video below builds upon the concepts introduced in the first video iCharter's Ethical Advertising Standard.

  4. The advertising industry operates within strict regulations in many countries and is monitored by a relevant government, or quasi-government, industry agency or commission. Even with truth-in-advertising laws in place, advertisers have significant leeway to violate the ethical standards of a wide range of consumers. The article below provides a summary of legal issues and ethics in advertising.

    Ingram, D. List of Ethical & Legal Issues When Advertising, Chron.
  5. The video below addresses ads with claims that might sound convincing, but they’re just too good to be true. It also covers the most popular methods, practices and brand communication themes that 'package' deceptive messages.

  6. The report below calls on the advertising industry and its clients to take responsibility for, and to pay much greater attention to, commercial advertising and its possible impacts in frustrating delivery on a wide range of social and environmental outcomes.

    Think Of Me As Evil? presents evidence that advertising may increase overall consumption; that it could promote and normalise a range of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.

    Alexander, J., Crompton, T. and Shrubsole, G. 2011. Think of Me as Evil? Opening the Ethical debates in Advertising.Public Interest Research Centreand WWF-UK.
  7. Advertising pitched at children is a hot button topic. It has been a hot topic, on and off, for some time. However, at the moment, it is definitely back in the forefront of industry practices. The link below will take you to a topical debate on the subject.

    Public Interest Research Centre's debate on advertising to the children's market:
Read More

 The video series below cover different aspects of ethics in brand messaging. The first two videos cover the more concrete aspects of advertising and marketing ethics. The last video covers the more socially rewarding aspects of ethical advertising and marketing - ones that are central to the overall course...a video we hope will inspire you and inspire your copywriting.

  1. The video below delves more deeply into the subject of Ethics in the Advertising Industry

  2. In the video below, Strathclyde Business School's Dean, Prof. Susan Hart, discusses business ethics with Prof Bodo Schlegelmilch from Vienna's Wirtschaftsuniversität.

  3. The video below is a Morally marketed interview with Thomas Kolster, the author of the book Goodvertising.

Read More

The scenarios for this session are  in the form of case studies from Morally Marketed.

Morally Marketed launched to empower people to see through the matrix of marketing and the media so they can make informed life enriching choices. It facilitates this process through info sharing, ideas and offering better alternatives. Morally Marketed believes in what goes in must come out. Good information in, better life results out. And to inspire a new generation of marketers too - which matches the ethos of this course rather nicely.

There are two groups of case studies on the Morally marketed website: advertisements from For Profit companies and advertisements from the Not-for-Profit sector.

For Profit Case Studies

A collection of case studies on the good, bad and the ugly side of companies' advertising. Morally Marketed writes about the most ethical and unethical adverts. Let these case studies inspire and direct your brand messaging to promote a better world.

Charity & Cause Marketing Case Studies

Here you will find some of the best and worst pieces of charity and cause marketing efforts. Let these case studies inspire and direct your brand messaging to promote a better world.

Empathy Map and Brand Value Map

Instead of doing a template exercise, we advise returning to the Empathy Map and Brand Value Map you developed in the SMU 101 An Intro to Branding Unit.

The new insights you have gained around the concept of brands and branding communication should be applied to both.

Read More

The resources below provide regulatory guidelines and frameworks. We suggest thoroughly reviewing, understanding and applying the relevant codes in the copy your produce. From this point onwards, you will be assessed on how your copy complies with UK and EU advertising codes and regulations.

UK Regulations

UK Advertising Code Website:

UK Advertising Code download document:,d.cWc

UK Advertising Standards Authority:

UK Government's Marketing and advertising: the law:

General UK Regulatory Resources

The UK Parliamentary website hosts the latest information about advertising codes across every business and non-profit sector in the UK.

The Proprietary Association of Great Britain(PAGB) website has in-depth information about regulatory codes governing advertising practices in the UK. The information provided covers every conceivable industry.

EU Regulatory Resources

European Advertising Standards Alliance:

Read More

Abela, A.V. and Murphy, P.E. 2008. Marketing with integrity: ethics and the service-dominant logic for marketing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Vol 36, pp. 39 - 53.

Bartels, R. 1967. A Model for Ethics in Marketing, Journal of Marketing, 31(1), 20-26 (requires free registration).

Bhattacharya, C.B. and Daniel Korschun. 2008. Stakeholder Marketing: Beyond the Four Ps and the Customer, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 27 (Spring), 113 - 16.

Bhattacharya, C.B. and  Sen, S. 2004. Doing Better at Doing Good: When, Why, and How Consumers Respond to Corporate Social Initiatives, California Management Review, Vol 47, No. 1, Fall 2004. 9-24.

Brennan, M. 1991. Is There More to Ethical Marketing than Marketing Ethics?, Marketing Bulletin,
1991, 2, 8 - 17, Article 2.

Ethics Based Marketing website:

Ferrell, O.C. and Gresham, L.G. 1985. A Contingency Framework for Understanding Ethical Decision Making in Marketing, Journal of Marketing, 49(3) (1985): 87–96. (Requires free registration to read online).

Gundlach, G. T. and Murphy, P. E. 1993. Ethical and legal foundations of relational marketing exchanges, Journal of Marketing; Oct 1993; 57, 4; ABI/INFORM Global. 35 - 46. (Requires free registration to read online).

Kirby, S.D. and Andreasen, A.R. Marketing Ethics to Social Marketers: A Segmented Approach.

Laczniak, G.R. and Murphy, P.E. 2006. Normative Perspectives for Ethical and Socially Responsible Marketing, Journal of Macromarketing, 2006; 26; 154.

Lavidge, R.J. 1970. The Growing Responsibilities of Marketing, Journal of Marketing, 34(1) (1970): 25–28. (Requires free registration to read online).

Muhcina, S. and Popovici, V. Ethics in Marketing Communication.

Murphy, P.E. 1998. Ethics in Advertising: Review, Analysis and Suggestions, Journal of Public Pollicy & Marketing, Vol 17 (2), Fall 1998, pp 316-319.

Nil, A and Aalberts, R. Legal and Ethical Challenges of Online Behavioral Targeting in Advertising.,d.eXY

Philosophia's PHI 361: Business Ethics:

Robin, D.P. and R. Reidenbach, E. 1987. Social Responsibility, Ethics, and Marketing Strategy: Closing the Gap between Concept and Application, Journal of Marketing, 51(1) (1987): 44–58.(Requires free registration to read online).

Siham, Dr. B. 2013. Marketing Mix - An Area of Unethical Practices?, British Journal of Marketing Studies,
Vol.1, No.4, pp. 20-28, December 2013

Shultz, C.J. II. 2014. The Ethical Imperative of Constructive Engagement in a World Confounded by the Commons Dilemma, Social Traps, and Geopolitical Conflicts.Forthcoming in Handbook of Marketing Ethics,
Alexander Nill, ed., London: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd. In Press.

Smith, N.C. and Murphy, P.E. 2013. Marketing Ethics: A Review of the Field (Faculty & Research Working Paper), The Instead Business School, Fontainebleau, France.

Smith, N.C. 1995. Marketing Strategies for the Ethics Era, Sloan Management Review, 36(4) (1995): 85–97.

Vassilikopoulou, A., Siomkos, G., and Rouvaki, C. 2008. The Ethical and Unethical Dimensions of Marketing, Management Review: An International Journal, Volume 3, Number 2 Winter 2008, pp 49 - 60.,bs.1,d.dGY

Warc's - an article database service with articles on business, advertising and ethics

WIPO. Managing Intellectual Property in the Advertising Industry Creative Industries - Booklet No.5.

Yucel, R. and Dagdelin, O. 2003. Globalization of markets, marketing ethics and social responsibility, intechopin.

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