Is Prescription Drug Advertising Really Harmful?

In response to a recent article.

On October 21, many Americans celebrated “Back to the Future Day,” commemorating the day that film’s main character, Marty McFly (played by recent Advertising Hall of Fame inductee Michael J. Fox) arrived in the future.  Unfortunately the doctors of the American Medical Association appear to have misread the memo (could it have been the handwriting?) and recently voted to go back to the past by calling for an end to all prescription drug advertising.

In this case, the doctors have made the wrong prescription.  Far from being harmful, AAF believes that pharmaceutical advertising has provided a great benefit to consumers and public health.  By raising awareness of products available to treat many medical conditions, from lung cancer to COPD to, yes, erectile dysfunction, pharmaceutical advertising has resulted in countless patients making appointments with their doctors to learn more.  That can only be a good thing. Continue Reading →

Native Advertising: Creating a True Win-Win Media Environment

Journalist Resources published an article containing research and commentary on the increasing use and effectiveness of “native advertising,” a rapidly growing format for sponsored content. (Stefanie Knoll, August 19, 2015, journalists The article reports the growing design of ads to look like original or editorial content because “banner” ads are not attracting consumer attention, and the increasing use of ad blocking technology allows consumers to avoid online advertising on sites they visit with their laptops, iPhones and iPads.

The report emphasizes the controversy over native advertisers with proponents seeing it “attractive because it allows them to take advantage of the credibility and authority of journalistic outlets. By making ads appear to be editorial content, the advertisers are able to catch consumers off guard.” Critics contend “that it infringes on the the barrier that should separate the editorial and business sides – a deliberate division meant to protect and maintain journalistic independence.” Continue Reading →

New Ethical Principles for Protecting Patient Privacy in Marketing

In response to a recent article.

Our ad industry should take note of the ethical standards being advanced for protecting the privacy of patients when marketing client case studies. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) recognized successful case studies are one of the proven tools for encouraging addiction treatment, but require consideration to ensure patient privacy and to safeguard long-term recovery.

The NAATP’s revised code of ethics deal with the practice of misleading and deceptive marketing tactics, including those that could reveal a client’s identity. The principles include “hold sacred the shared value of our patients’ right to privacy.” A treatment provider may not reveal clients identities “in the form of photographic images, video images, media coverage, nor in marketing testimonials at any time during the client’s engagement in treatment.” Even after the treatment has concluded, treatment centers are urged to use caution in seeking permission to use testimonials, and some recommend against seeking and using testimonials from young clients not in a position to give informed consent to use their stories.

Certainly, those in our industry creating and disseminating marketing materials based ob patients’ successful medical treatment should adhere to these ethical standards. In fact, the federal government has rules and regulations protecting patients’ identities and health information.

The ethics behind the NAATP principles also applies to the need to protect consumer privacy in all marketing transactions. Our Institute’s Principles for Advertising Ethics include: “Advertisers should never compromise consumers’ personal privacy in marketing communications, and their choices as to whether to participate in providing their identity should be transparent and easily made.” (IAE Principle 6)

This ethical principle relates to marketing instances when we are using personal identifiers of the consume,r including photos, names and addresses. Also, consumers should be aware that their interests in products and services is being collected online and be given the choice of opting out.

A member of the NAATP ethics committee, Bob Ferguson, was quotes saying: “You want to apply the principles of common sense, fair play and the golden rule.” And as our Institute urges” “Do the Right Thing for the Consumer.”

About the Author

Wally Snyder

Wally Snyder has devoted his entire professional career to working on advertising development, regulation and ethics. He served as a trial lawyer and as Assistant Director for Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission before joining the American Advertising Federation where he served as president and CEO, from 1992–2008. Currently, he serves as Executive Director for the Institute for Advertising Ethics. Wally was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame® in 2009.

Advertising Ethics: Contradiction in Terms? NO!

Gene Ahner in his book on Business Ethics states, “Six Services are considered critical in a global economy: accounting, advertising, banking, insurance, law and management consulting.” For me the business and societal purpose of advertising is to provide consumers with the information needed, including competitive performance and pricing, to make our purchase decisions.  Advertising does provide the basis for product and service improvement.  After all, if you could not inform consumers about your product why would you want to improve it?

To achieve its critical role in the economy advertising must be conducted in an ethical manner.  My ethical standard is “Do the Right Thing for Consumers.”  Specifically, claims must be truthful with clear and conspicuous disclosures so they are not overstated; treat consumers “fairly” depending on the nature of the audience, e.g. children, and nature of the product, e.g. alcoholic beverages; and not contain content that stereotypes people, or contains violence, including against women.

Today’s advertising requiring ethical diligence include not blurring the line between paid ad content and editorial/news (“Native Advertising”), being transparent as to the conditions, e.g. payment, affecting consumer endorsements on blogs; protecting consumer privacy and providing choice regarding information collected online; and assuring that children understand that the messages directed to them are advertisements.

Consumers care about ethics and will reward and punish companies for how it is practiced.  Their ability to do so has been enhanced by online consumer information power.  Recent research shows that 95% of consumers have shared a negative experience; the good news is that 87% have shared a favorable one.

Perhaps, the greatest incentive for the practice of enhanced advertising ethics rests on the shoulders of our industry professionals.  Gene Ahner, who I quoted earlier, terms their ethical decisions “Ethics by Achievement,” ruled by their feelings, and hearts, not their brains.

When you know how important your profession is you should want to do your best ethically and professionally.

About the Author

Wally Snyder

Wally Snyder, Institute for
Advertising Ethics, AAF

Wally Snyder has devoted his entire professional career to working on advertising development, regulation and ethics. He served as a trial lawyer and as Assistant Director for Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission before joining the American Advertising Federation where he served as president and CEO, from 1992–2008. Currently, he serves as Executive Director for the Institute for Advertising Ethics. Wally was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame® in 2009.

Now is the Time to Build Consumer Trust Through Enhanced Ethics

Wallace Snyder

Wally Snyder, Executive Director, Institute for Advertising Ethics

Advertising Age reported on April 24, 2015, the dramatic results of a representative national survey of Americans commissioned by the 4A’s that found extremely low levels of trust for advertising.  Only 4% believed that Advertising and Marketing practice integrity, which 69% of the sample said means “always keeping promises.” (No One Trusts Advertising or Media, April 24, 2015;

The findings must be dealt with because Advertising and Marketing’s job is to build consumer trust for our brands and clients.  As David Bell, member of the IAE Advisory Council, puts it: “Trust is the currency of our business and Ethics is the engine of Trust.”  This important “Trust” is created, motivated and maintained by practicing enhanced advertising ethics.

Consumers are highly motivated to purchase by Trust.  Research conducted by Bozell over twenty years ago showed that consumers ranked “ethics and values” as the number-one factor in assessing whether or not a company can be called a “corporate good citizen.”  Research reported in the Wall Street Journal showed that consumers think highly enough about ethics that they are willing to pay more for an ethically produced product. And Leo Burnett understood this when he stated: “Ethics is at the center of how we express a brand.”

The Institute for Advertising Ethics, a partnership between the American Advertising Federation and the Missouri School of Journalism, has adopted eight Principles for Advertising Ethics that emphasize the importance of ethics for the advertising entity and its professionals, and that cover the current ethical dilemmas we are facing. Specifically related to the consumer research findings, Principle 1 states that advertising and editorial share a common objective of truth and high ethical standards in serving the public, and Principle 2 urges that our advertising and marketing professionals exercise the highest personal ethics in the creation and dissemination of commercial information.

Principles and Practices with Commentary

Principle 3 urges that the line between advertising and editorial should not be blurred.  This relates to one of the negative research findings that only 4% trust “Brand-sponsored content that looks like it’s editorial content.”  So-called “Native Advertising” is now being offered by 75% of the nations’ publishers.  The point is that it can be done effectively and with trust with effective disclosure that it is paid content.

While the research is discouraging, it presents an opportunity for the advertising and PR industry to believe in the importance of building trust with the consumer through ethical and effective marketing communications.  IAE stands ready to assist with ad ethics classes, its certificate program and website page.

The Ethics of Social Media

By: Monica Helms, Ad2OKC/AAF Oklahoma City Ad Club

“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.” — David Ogilvy

At last year’s ADMERICA!, I wrote about ethics and social media. For my first post this year, I was asked to write about both. Given that this is a rather complicated and sometimes sensitive issue, I decided to look to various resources for guidance on how I should frame this. More specifically, I looked at Mashable, Forbes, and even NPR’s Social Media Ethics Handbook. There were probably a few others as well, but let’s face it, I don’t exactly have the best attention span.

The one that caught my attention the most was the Forbes article, which listed five “deadly sins” of social media:

  • unreported endorsements,
  • improper anonymity,
  • compromising consumer privacy,
  • overly enthusiastic employees, and
  • using the online community to get free work.

I don’t know if you’re seeing what I’m seeing, but I think for me, at least four out of the five points in this article could be summed up in the following phrase: Honesty is the best policy. Nobody likes feeling deceived. But what constitutes deception in social media? Is running a contest or sweepstakes to get people to “like” or follow your brand in exchange for some kind of prize unethical? Is outsourcing your social media to a third-party agency or consultant unethical? Is tweeting a vote of optimism in the face of a tragedy unethical?

The answer is that no, it’s not necessarily unethical to do these things. But it can be. As Ogilvy stated above, it’s important to treat your customers the way you would want to be treated. Would you appreciate watching your friends become zombies for a brand if it came with the promise of prizes or giveaways? Would you appreciate it if it was happening to you–especially from a brand you wouldn’t normally care about? Probably not, right

What about outsourcing your social media? I vote that it can be–specifically if you’re not transparent about who the voice is behind the brand. In the social media world, your transparency and honesty is your credibility. The internet is not a place one should tread lightly–nothing you say can be considered private upon posting or gone once erased. I’m sure you can think of plenty of politicians and celebrities who has learned that lesson the hard way.

What about the last one? I’m not going to name any names, but more than one brand took heat for posting insensitively during the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. What about the brands who didn’t simultaneously promote their product with their condolences, or some other faux pas? By that I mean the brands who simply posted thanks to the first responders, or that their hearts were with the city. Was that unethical? I think some of you know exactly how you feel on this one. There’s no grey area for you, and regardless of which side you’re on, I admire that. But if you’re like me, this last one has you squirming in your seat a bit. Is it possible for a brand to send out heartfelt thanks or condolences in the face of a tragedy without necessarily being opportunistic? I don’t know if I have an answer for that.

Follow Monica @mkhelms