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Maintaining equilibrium between creativity and responsibility through ethical advertising

Sachin Kumar, Founder, Bottle Openers, writes about the ethical data utilisation, political campaigns, surrogate advertising, and the marketing of sensitive products such as cigarettes and liquor

Sachin Kumar

In the dynamic world of advertising, the intersection of creativity and responsibility is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship between brands and consumers.

Ethics significantly influence the advertising terrain, influencing diverse facets like data utilisation, political campaigns, surrogate advertising, and the marketing of sensitive products such as cigarettes and liquor. Have talked about some of these aspects in this article, which I believe marketers should be cognizant of while advertising their products.

Use of first-party data: Balancing personalisation and privacy

Advertising has entered an era of hyper-personalisation, driven by the use of first-party data to target consumers more effectively. While this can enhance user experience, it also raises ethical concerns regarding privacy. Advertisers must tread carefully, ensuring that they respect user consent and adhere to data protection regulations.

For example, if you are an e-commerce player using first-party data to recommend personalised products based on user's preferences, you should also clearly communicate your data usage policies and allow users to opt out if they want.

Inciteful campaigns in politics: The thin line between persuasion and manipulation

Political advertising, especially in the age of social media, often blurs the line between persuasion and manipulation. Campaigns that incite fear or spread false information can have severe consequences for society.

Ethical advertising in politics requires a commitment to transparency, accuracy, and a fair presentation of information. Political campaigns should emphasize their achievements without resorting to personal attacks spreading misleading information about opponents or using religion as a tool to gain the trust of a particular section of society.

Surrogate advertising: The art of indirect promotion

Over the years we have been hugely impacted with surrogate advertising from liquor and cigarette brands. While as an advertiser I understand the campaigns from the brand’s point of view, however, what is critical for these brands is to also take ownership of driving responsible behaviour.

Many Liquor brands have done this in the past, taking up the issue of drinking and driving. Heineken Global for example has an annual commitment to spend at least 10% of its total media investments towards responsible consumption messaging. In fact last year they took this commitment a notch higher by partnering with Boomerang and Uber, to launch a campaign in certain markets that not only delivered a powerful message about responsible drinking but also provided a safe and reliable transportation option for those who needed it the most, enabling consumers to make the right decision to not drink and drive. With over 45,000 safe rides provided in key markets, the Enjoy Heineken Responsibly campaign was a huge success in the markets where the initiative was undertaken.

While cigarette advertisements have also taken the route of promoting the message of responsible smoking by featuring a clear health warning and encouraging smokers to be mindful of their health, I feel there are fewer brands that have taken a higher ground of actually creating a behaviour change.

Especially in India, there have been fewer such initiatives. Of course, one reason is the stringent regulations surrounding the advertising of tobacco and liquor products. However, because of the proliferation of content across multiple channels and with young viewers also having access to unedited content showing usage of liquor and tobacco products, we cannot control the consumption of such content much. Having more responsible messaging and initiatives can perhaps at least aim to drive more awareness and encourage responsible action.

Accurate information: Transparency in food advertising

Of late there has been a lot of awareness created on ingredients used in certain products which are advertised as being healthy, especially for kids. Accurate information about ingredients, nutritional content, and sourcing is paramount. Consumers have a right to understand exactly what they are consuming. Misleading claims can not only harm consumer trust but also impact health in the long run.

In the ever-evolving landscape of advertising, the ethical dimensions of creativity and responsibility are critical for building long-term relationships with consumers. Advertisers must navigate these challenges by prioritizing transparency, respecting user privacy, and promoting responsible practices. By doing so, they contribute to a healthier advertising ecosystem that benefits both brands and consumers alike.


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