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Introduction to Business Ethics
Ethics may be defined as moral guideline that governs good behavior. Ethics determines what is good or wrong (Pojman & Fieser, 2008). In the practice of business, it is expected that the firm should behave in accordance to the principle, values and belief set and held by the society in which it operates. Business ethics refers to application of professional ethics in business transactions or dealings. It deals with the examination of moral principles that may arise in a business setting. Besides defining the acceptable conduct of the organization, business ethics also defines or predetermines how the management makes its decisions. When good business ethics are observed, not only the welfare of the business is improved, but also the welfare of the society, stakeholders, consumers, suppliers and employees as well. With the increased competition and dynamism in business environment, it has today become very important for any business entity to observe the societal ethics for it to continue striving and surviving. Where ethical values and norms are in conflict, due to differences in cultural practices and beliefs, the organization has to decide which the way to take is. Consumers are expected to buy only products that will grant them maximum satisfaction. It is, therefore, important that business strictly follow ethics held by the society, so that it may be able to satisfy more and more needs of consumers. Ferrell & Fraedrich suggest that adherence to ethical practices by a business would motivate its employees and consequently result into increased productivity and production of high quality goods and services (Ferrell & Fraedrich, 2008). Similarly, the business should take great responsibility when using the resources since they originate from the society.
Integrating Business Ethics in Advertisements
Advertising can be defined as a non-personal form of communication that is intended to persuade a person or group of persons to change their actions, usually by purchasing a company’s products. Advertising has two basic purposes: to inform and to persuade. It can employ different techniques and methods. Since advertising usually acts as a mirror, it should not reflect distorted images of the reality (Phillips, 1997).
According to Lee & Johnson, the importance of advertising has steadily increased in the modern society due to increased access to different sources of information such as the print media and channels of communication (Lee & Johnson, 2005). It has been primarily used by sellers to communicate the potential buyers about the products on offer and their respective worth. Advertising is psychological tool used by sellers to influences their buying decisions. It applies a persuasive language. Advertising has great affect in the cultural values and can equally transfer new ideas and cultures from one community to another. It has great influence on the behaviors and personality of consumers. Most businesses have used the media as the vehicle for delivering their advertising messages due to its increased persuasive power to modify, shape and change attitudes and behaviors of people. When proper advertising techniques are adopted by the business, there shall be increased confidence of customers in the products and hence growths in market share. Marlin puts forward that for advertisements to be ethical they should never lie. The company should be able to prove that what is displayed in the advertisements is exactly the same as the products it is selling (Marlin, 2003). The business should be in a position to be able to deliver exactly what was seen by customers in the adverts. By so doing, the customers will be assured of and be certain with any information pertaining to the products that is obtained from the adverts. It is thus ethical for the business to say the truth in its advertisements. The business should make full disclosure of any defects that the products has, without necessarily minding that this would drive away potential customers. Applegate & Johnsen postulate that advertising, from the company’s point of view, is having the company interviewed by millions of potential consumers at once. It should thus strive at making the best first impression (Applegate & Johnsen, 2007)
However, Shaw warns that conflicts might arise between business objectives and advertising ethics. Generally, there are various controversies that surround the advertising arena of businesses (Shaw, 2008). These can either be economical and social impacts. A good example where the advertising ethics may conflict with the goals of the business is in marketing of alcohol and cigarettes. Most governments require that these products should bear health warnings in conspicuous parts of the products. Similarly, their advertisements should also noticeable display such health precautions. From the organization’s perspective, this would mean discouraging consumption of such products, and hence decrease in sales and fall in profits. If the business is to obey such laws and regulations, and the welfare of the consumers as well, it then would not be able to sell and consequently shut down its operations. It is, therefore, a responsibility of the organization to put a balance between such warnings and precautions and the message of persuading customers to continue consuming its products.
In addition, the business should take into deep consideration the type of media used in advertising. The timing of the advertisements is another crucial consideration. Advertising should consider also the effect it has on children and other disadvantaged groups in the society. For instance, certain products are meant for use by adults only such as alcohol, cigarettes and condoms, they should be advertised only to this specific group. However, the major problem is how such a target group could be excluded from the rest of the society during such adverts. It is evident that most advertising agents and sites would not accept certain advertisements because they may offend some audiences. And what are the kinds of demonstrations that should be used in advertising such products that are considered harmful or threat to the ethics of the society? The Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) recommends that advertisements that involve risky products, adults should be shown supervising the children. Advertising should also consider the legal requirements of the country, for instance, advertising of tobacco has been totally banned in Canada (Wilkins & Coleman, 2005).
In conclusion, I would stress that compliance to business ethics will not only result into satisfaction of the customers, but also facilitates achievement of the goals and objectives of the organization, for instance profit maximization and wealth optimization objectives of the business. It can thus be concluded that good business ethic is the heart of every business. The information that is provided in the adverts should be for the common good of the business and consumers and the society at large. The consumers have a right to information that is based on truth and should be strictly observed. It is this spirit that should guide organizations placing advertisements about their products. The information on the adverts should not be against the moral principle sand norms of the society and the consumers. Advertiser should neither be selective on the values and attitudes that are to be fostered and encouraged in the adverts nor promote some values while ignoring others, but instead should give equal weight to all morals of the society. Best advertising practices thus are those that aim at improving the welfare of the people through human development. It is necessary for the perfect or smooth functioning of the market economies. It should be seen as a useful tool in sustaining honest and responsible competition in the goods market. It should enable the organization to effectively respond to the socio-economic needs of the community. Moore suggests that a good advertising practice should not be seductive in nature. It should not convince the people to make unplanned purchases of goods they neither need nor want (Moore, 2005).
Similarly, good advertising should be able to impact positively on the intellectual, moral and aesthetic qualities of the people. The audience should be encouraged to make informed decisions with respect to issues pertaining to their daily lives. A good advertising practice is one which is educative in nature. It should deliver constructive information on certain aspects of life, for instance, effects of excessive drinking of alcohol should be well communicated to the audiences.
Advertising should not cause social, economic or cultural harm. It should not tamper with the traditional beliefs and values held by the society. It should not devalue, degrade, undermine or ridicule any principle held by the society. It should not convey vulgar or abusive messages. Similarly, it should not do things against the requirements of the religion of the particular community. It should bear truthful aspects. It should be free from deliberate exaggeration, deceive and falsehood. In addition, it should show respect to human dignity and should not violate human rights (Straubhaar, Larose & Davenport, 2009). A moral advertising practice should neither exploit human weaknesses nor undermine personal autonomy hence should allow consumers to make their own independent choices nor spread vice such as greed, abortion and stealing. It should be socially responsible, for instance, take ecological responsibility and aim at improving human development by cultivating good lifestyles.
It is also important to note that advertising is equally important to the society for its survival. It offers numerous employment opportunities to various media owners and advertising agents. Public authorities should take appropriate measures to ensure that advertisements are within the defined rules, laws and regulations. Media owners should only air what they are consciously certain to be healthy to the eyes and ears of the audiences. The freedom of expression and access to information should not be breached through advertising.
Last but not least, an acceptable advertising practice should not mislead the consumers, hence businesspersons should ensure that advertisements contain truthfulness and all claims represented in the advertisements. . It should not be indecent, offensive or obscene. It must should honor and show respect to the norms of the society. Advertisements should avoid sensitive issues such discrimination against race, color, gender or nationality, but rather be educative in nature. Every business, therefore, should strictly observe all the ethics associated with advertising.