This essay has a total of 1145 words and 11 pages.


Advertising is constantly bombarded by criticism.
It is accused of encouraging materialism and
consumption, of stereotyping, of causing us to
purchase items for which we have no need, of
taking advantage of children, of manipulating our
behavior, using sex to sell, and generally
contributing to the downfall of our social system.
Critics of advertising abound. Barely a week goes
by without some advertisement or campaign, or
the ad industry, being the focal point of some
controversy. There even are web sites dedicated
to criticizing various aspects of advertising.

To illustrate some of the many attacks on
advertising, I have compiled a list of relatively
recent examples that have appeared in
newspapers and magazines. This is far from being
an exhaustive list. It is intended merely to provide
you with some ideas about how the
public-at-large perceives advertising, and to give
you a sense of the many legal and ethical
problems inherent in the advertising profession.

Law and ethics are not coterminous. All the issues
discussed on this page have ethical dimensions,
but not all of them implicate legal realities. The
law is confined by limitations on government
authority, principally through the Constitution,
while ethics bear no such limitations. Ethics,
therefore, should be subject to a higher standard
of expectation than law. See:

bibliography of advertising ethics

Ethics & Self-Regulation links

Morality and Ethics quotes.

The United States Constitution, through the First
Amendment, places constraints on government
repression of speech. Advertising is recognized
by the courts as a form of "commercial speech."
Commercial speech has been defined by the
Court as speech "which does no more than
propose a commercial transaction." Although the
courts never have recognized it as being as
valuable as some other forms of speech,
commercial speech is protected by the First

This means that many of the criticisms aimed at
advertising are not regulable by government.
However, the Supreme Court, in Central
Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service
Commission, declared that commercial speech
can be regulated if:

It is misleading or concerns an illegal product,
OR if

There is a substantial government interest, AND

The regulation directly advances that
government interest, AND

The regulation is narrowly tailored to that

If a regulation can pass that test, it will be held
constitutional. You can read some of the
advertising-related Supreme Court decisions
here. In addition, we have provided a
bibliography of articles and books about
commercial speech, to help you learn more about
this topic, along with some quotes about
advertising and free speech.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the
primary regulator of deceptive advertising in the
U.S. It was created by the FTC Act in 1914.

Section 5 of the Act gave the Commission the
authority to regulate "unfair methods of
competition." The Act was later changed, by the
Wheeler-Lea Amendment, to give the FTC
authority over both "unfair methods of
competition" and "unfair or deceptive acts or
practices." It is through this latter power that the
FTC regulates deceptive advertising.

Commissioners of the FTC act like judges,
hearing cases when marketers are charged with
violating the FTC Act. The Commission also
publishes advertising guidelines for marketers,
which are not law but merely advisory, and
adopts trade regulation rules, which are law.

Basic Principles

According to its 1993 Policy Statement on
Deception, the FTC considers a marketing effort
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