4 of the Biggest Ethical Issues in Advertising and How to Avoid Them

There are many rules and regulations in the advertising industry so that businesses aren’t causing harm and offence when promoting their products and services to their audience. Moderators look out for instances of possible discrimination, gender equality, indecency and more in order to protect viewers – vulnerable people and children in particular.


Despite these issues putting speed bumps in the way of ad creation, there are still plenty of ways to avoid them and for your work to still look killer. This post will outline the main issues involved with ethical advertising and how you can get around them yet still be as creative as possible.

We’ll cover:

Gender Equality

Women control over 80 percent of purchasing decisions, but yet over 91 percent of women feel like they can’t properly connect with many adverts due to the gender inequality featured within them.

In the advertising industry, gender equality focuses on peoples’ individual rights and encourages an equal opportunity for men, women, boys and girls alike. In a lot of modern advertising, many agencies are starting to promote the importance of women and girls and encouraging the public to let their voices be heard. Much of this is down to society finally moving away from stereotypes of women.

Take P&G’s #LikeAGirl campaign, for example. It was launched to empower women around the world and remove gender barriers to equal opportunities in everyday life. The brand stated that it “seeks to create a better world through gender equality and its leveraging insights to uncover gender bias, and take action to spark conversations and set new expectations that motivate change.”

#LikeAGirl is a great way of advertisers can get around the issue of gender equality by trying to squash typical stereotypes. However, this is isn’t the only way around the problem. When creating an advert promoting your business or product featuring people, you must think of the following questions during the planning phase:

  • What is the overall opinion of the male/female presented?
  • Are they portrayed respectfully?
  • Are they depicted in any way inappropriately?
  • Are they seen as a positive role model for both genders respectively?

Should you fail to meet any of the above criteria, the industry has more powerful tools today than ever before. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has the right to remove any advertisement they see to be harmful to others.


Social Equality

Just as technology and businesses do, the social scale and life itself evolves at a similar rate. This means that what was acceptable to promote even 10 years ago may not be suitable to promote in modern adverts.

Social equality can cover anything from same-sex marriages, single parent or divorced families to racism and discrimination. Airbnb, a business once targeted for perceived promoting racial discrimination within their ads, release an advertisement during the Super Bowl titled “We Accept.”

The advertisement was released just nine days after President Trump signed an order to temporarily close America’s borders to refugees. It featured a montage of people of different nationalities along with the words, “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”

By releasing this advert, it not only got people talking about the brand and their stance on the matter, but it also reiterated the point that society shouldn’t tolerate any negative behaviour to one another and your advertisements shouldn’t promote anything along those lines.


Advertising to Children

For some businesses, children are an essential target market to advertise to. There’s no escaping it. But there are issues surrounding marketing to children about topics like fast food and entertainment that you need to watch. 

Children are more susceptible to being easily led and influenced, so by advertising ethically, you need to respect that and not take advantage of it. The best three ways to advertise ethically to children are:

  • Communicate with parents. Parents are the decision makers, so make sure your adverts are completely transparent. Childrens’ online craft store, WildWorks have recently started making their safety features more prominent on their products for this reason.
  • Encourage kids to advocate the brand. Fan hosted blogs, art submissions or any ways the kids can express themselves within their brand will help them interact with the brand themselves.
  • Produce original content. Kids want to be involved and educational content is a great way of helping them engage with your brand. Keep your adverts concise, but maybe include a little learning point in there too as a takeaway for the kids.


One of, if not the most divisive topic in the world. Politics. Not only is it such a crucial topic for many but it’s also a touchy subject with a billion opinions flying about. That’s why you need to be careful when advertising anything politics-related.

Your adverts shouldn’t be seen as trying to rally votes or influencing the reader with a particular party view. This is a big no-no. That would be propaganda and the last thing you want your brand to be tarred with.

However, political ads in non-broadcast media whose principal function is to influence voters are exempt from the Advertising Code and are allowed. But they’re banned from being shown live on TV. So, as you can see it’s a tricky, grey area.

We understand that advertisements can, of course, be emotive. They’re a way of expressing your passion for your brand and products, but the best way to avoid advertising unethically within the political sector is to remain politically neutral throughout all of your marketing campaigns. Not only will this broaden your target audience and not close out specific party followers, but it’ll also shine your brand in a positive light that you’re targeting the masses and not trying to be exclusive.


Find Out More About Advertising Ethically and Correctly

So, now you’ve brushed up on four of the main issues, you may think that you’re good to go and start your next advertising campaign. However, there are still plenty of different ethical considerations to be addressed before you start your planning phase.

From the ink you’re using to print your advertisements to the materials that you’re printing them on, it all needs to be considered greatly. We’ve created a free guide for you to consult before you start your next campaign and ensure it’s as ethical as possible. Download your free copy below.