February 20, 2020

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Is Ethical Advertising Finally Gaining Traction?

You know you’re having an impact when you are emulated, however inadvertently. Social advertising is peeking into the mainstream, but is it really ethical?


By Rosalinda Sanquiche, Executive Director, Ethical Markets Media

Setting the standard is the EthicMark®, originally designed as a single award for advertising that uplifts the human spirit and society and which has transitioned into multiple awards for “Advertising Uplifting Potentials for Our Human Future,” better reflecting our aspiration for advertising to fulfill its wider role of educating for personal development and sustainable societies. 

According to the Center for Media Research, advertising is a $500 billion global industry. Of that, half is for advertising in the United States. The U.K. has 13,000 companies in advertising generating £6.2 billion annually

There are many advertising associations and dozens of awards for advertising. Some are even issue specific such as the Women’s Image Network Awards. None give awards whose sole focus is on socially responsible advertising. Hazel Henderson, founder and president of Ethical Markets Media, is also the founder of the EthicMark and co-chairs the Executive Committee with Rinaldo Brutoco, president, World Business Academy, its lead co-sponsor. 

Their vision and that of the Judges Panel is of a world in which advertising, de facto educator of millions, calls for a higher role grounded in ethics, promoting products that are good for the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Awards are given in for-profit and non-profit categories from EthicMark: Advertising that uplifts the human spirit and societynominations worldwide, with finalist and winners chosen by a judges panel of renowned experts in the fields of marketing, advertising, academia, media and SRI.

Mainstream Advertising Awards’ Social Messages Limited In Scope

It is a testament to the perceived importance of ethical branding that some winners of advertising awards such as Clios and Addys have positive social messages even without criteria such as the EthicMark’s goals for advertising, which portray and reinforce healthy lifestyles, personal development, community life, social responsibility, the environment, sustainability, human rights, and sound labor practices. 

By coincidence, winners of other awards might have a social message, yet, in the same year in which the Guardian’s “Three Little Pigs” won their top award, four Clios were awarded for body wash – exploitive of women and idealizing risky or salacious behavior. That we have one nomination/winner overlap, “Dumb Way to Die” seems more like chance than uplifting advertising. 

Most advertising awards do not take the advertiser into consideration. Coca-Cola’s winning “Security Cameras” may be heartwarming, but it is still for a company linked to water waste and obesity. One of Dumb Way to Diethis year’s EthicMark nominations, for example, is for a campaign warning against soft drink consumption, “The Real Bears.”

Most advertising awards represent advertising agencies patting each other on the back. The EthicMark is unique in demonstrating to the advertising industry, responsible corporations and investors the power of ethical advertising by announcing its awards annually at the preeminent SRI Conference, to be held this year in Boulder, Colorado, Oct. 28-30, 2013.

Advertisers Should Help Fund Public Interest Campaigns

There is an important role for advertising in moving social policy forward.

While the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) does address advertising to children, as does the EthicMark, 4As’ top policy consideration is advertising deductibility – keeping advertising listed in the tax codes as an “ordinary and necessary cost of doing business” and thus a deduction.

This is contrary to the policy advocated by Hazel Henderson with the Truth in Advertising Assurance Set-Aside, where companies would be required to set aside a small adjustable percentage of their advertising tax exemption to fund public interest campaigns to produce and air supplemental counter-advertising campaigns.

Global Reach For Ethical Marketing

Despite the size of the U.S. market, advertising has a global reach. ESPM, the preeminent university of advertising and marketing in Brazil, is now a co-sponsor of the EthicMark, providing insight from its own marketing award, the Premio Renato Castelo Branco, developed within the Latin American ESPM Brazilcontext.

As advertising methods evolve and venues expand – for example, to include social media – and as marketers gain insight on what most drives and influences customers, whether that be neuromarketing or Big Data, standards must evolve as well. Ethical Markets Media, the World Business Academy, University of Notre Dame and ESPM are now joined by GlobeScan, Sustainable Brands and TBLI and will be joined by additional corporate sponsors meeting our criteria to continuously raise the standards and benchmarks expected of EthicMark award nominees and winners.

Such support proves the relevance and increasing demand for ethical advertising. AdAge noticed the EthicMark but predictably dismissed awards based on ethics. As Mahatma Gandhi aptly described social change:

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win.”  

This year the EthicMark received nominations from new groups, such as the National Union of Students and the Coalition of Mischief. Ethical advertising is gaining traction, and a day may come when advertising does uplift the potential for our human future. We do not need any more “best of show” going to Oreos or awards to Pepsi Max showing the worth of a FAKE senior citizen or to packaging beer rather than to better packaging!


Rosalinda Sanquiche serves on the EthicMark Judges Panel.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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