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Advertisements and consumer interests: ethical dilemmas

Mohiuddin Babar | November 10, 2022 00:00:00

The cult of advertising or advertisement has an ancient root. Centuries earlier, even long before the print media came to surface, people would use signage carved on stones to identify locations or to relay some kind of information. Those were mostly depicted through drawings or imageries. With the passage of time and in tandem with the growth of civilization, the horizons of advertising gained importance in terms of communication value and its socioeconomic impact on society. It particularly leapfrogged with the advent of printing technology, and more so, with the rise of chronicles and newspapers as popular form for disseminating information.

Advertisements are regarded as powerful, informative, persuasive and manipulative tools. These are used for relaying communications about any product or services or any other information of public interest. Consumer reliance on advertisements kept growing in upward curve so much so that the sector is one of the most vibrant ones in today's world having explosive creativity and innovation.

Besides holding informational and educational components, advertisements have come up to possess tremendously high commercial value. Globally, it is one of the fastest-growing sectors with an estimated value of about 600 billion US dollars today and with an expectation of rising to about USD800 billion over the next five years. Despite the Covid- 19 pandemic, the ad sector kept growing. Certainly, the mobile phone and internet technology played a booming role in keeping this sector buoyant when the entire world was in a lull. When people everywhere and anywhere were confined in isolation, accessibility to cellular phone and digital commerce had prime importance for life and living. Advertisements played a domineering role during such catastrophic period.

It is true that advertisements play a great role in impacting consumer behaviour. Aimed at informing and influencing consumers, advertisements use multiple channels---- oral, written and visual. Ancient Chinese businesses (as well as in our country, too) used to recite poetry to announce about any new product; ancient Egyptians used papyrus

Advertisements reach their goals when they are able to touch the human instinct of inquisitiveness, love, possessiveness and pride. With very simple language and casual thoughts, an advertisement can create an emotional link and court mammoth customer satisfaction. In 1965, Pear,s soap became an overnight success story after running the advertisement which read 'Good morning! Have you used Pears' soap?' Likewise in India, the tagline 'The Taste of India' with all Amul products succeeded in strengthening the sense of pride.

It must not be forgotten that adverts can also stir hate, anger and fear. For all these, advertisements need to be ethical and should not play any deceptive role. There are guidelines, both national and international, for advertisements stressing, among others, promotional intent and contents. However, there are observations whether these are followed in good faith.

Advertisements act upon competitiveness as well. Unfortunately, at times, they are on aggressive tracks and thus the ethical aspect is seriously hurt. In our country, the competition aspect came to rise particularly when the mobile telecommunications services were introduced. As it was a new sector and tremendously useful for our life and living, the companies created a major hype in the media, both print and electronic, with lavish spending. Grameenphone and Robi (previously AKTEL) locked into advertisement battles to win customers. Consumers were not unhappy as they saw a vibrant development in their own lifestyle with conveniences of connecting with others.

However, there was a spate of uneasiness when mobile financial services (MFS) gained ground. With bKash in particular and others like Rocket, Upay etc striking a breakthrough in the domain of financial inclusion, people felt simply relieved. The competition grew and so the advertisement bites. Things took an uncomfortable turn when Nagad surfaced. With the intent of enrolling as many customers as possible, Nagad rolled out massive campaigns. As bKash was already at the top line, Nagad advertisements looked like locking horns with the market leader. Things reached such an aggressive point that the central bank, the regulatory authority, had to issue a warning reminding the MFS providers of being careful with the contents of their ads. As people were getting confused, that was a bold step for protecting consumer interests in the country.

Truly, advertisements should be designed and prepared with an appealing tone so as to influence the consumers. There should not be any wildcat behaviour even in the fiercest competition. After all, consumers today are well-prepared to judge and would count more on the benefits they receive, on the trust they have on the companies and on the legacy, culture and social responsibility record of those companies. Competition is a healthy sign and greatly beneficial to the consumers. However, advertisements with prudent contents and expressions can bring enough relief to the consumers.

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