“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself” said David Mackenzie Ogilvy, the father of advertising. Today we see innumerable advertisements around us. The national advertising industry has risen so high that on an average an individual is exposed to 1,00,000 ads per day. Bus advertising, truck side ads, scooter, caravans video display vehicles, walking billboards, wrapped smart cars and taxi advertising are seen around the world. But how many of it uphold the ethics of advertising?

Mass media in the past specified a definite proportion for ads and editorial matter for a newspaper. It said  60% of a newspaper should be editorial matter and the remaining 40% may be occupied by advertisements. But as the major chunk of revenue of any newspaper or any other medium of communication is advertisements , this traditional concept of proportion has become history.

Sameer Jain, the Managing Director of the largest media organisation, Times of India publication and the early bird of the Indian media scene has set a new trend in this milieu of intense competition. He gave respectability to the advertising department and said, “Every newspaper is a brand and the brand has to be promoted through brand building”. In order to monopolize the newspaper market, he created a mother market by launching a rival newspaper ‘independent’. This was the time when a newspaper advertised for itself to survive in the market.

Print media has undergone drastic changes after independence. Profit oriented money mindedness and ulterior motives prevailed.’ Indian Opinion’ under the editorship of Gandhiji had absolutely no advertisements, because during those days carrying ads itself was considered unethical. After independence, everything  became a chaos. Journalism very soon became a profession and newspaper became a product, packaged and sold to the economic élite, designed to satisfy  the needs of the advertiser first and readers second. Advertisement was then rechristened as ‘paid news’. After liberalization, when Niche` publications gained prominence, The Economic Times sold like hot cakes. The meteoric rise in circulation  resulted in the emergence of new editions in different languages.

But today, we find that media is being irritating commercialized.  Values which were given sanctity and respect by our tradition have become commodities for sale in modern advertising. The need for ethics in advertising is indispensable as we have a duty to live a good moral existence.

Ethics, for instance refers to those delegations to abstain from rape, stealing, murders, assault, slander and fraud. Ethical standards also encompass those that enjoin virtues of truthfulness, concern and faithfulness. And , ethical standards comprise values connecting to rights, such as the right to live, the right to freedom from injury and the right to privacy. Ethics also means, constant attempt of studying our own moral behavior, and determine to ensure that we and the institutions we help to form live up to principles that are rational and firmly based.

Advertisements influence the path of children very deeply. Most of the modern ads tend to mislead the youth. By contrast, an ethical ad can contribute to a good corporate reputation, heightened morale and thus boost  repeat business.Recently, India has produced many ads that promoted the sale of the product along with a meaningful social message (Idea ads are best examples). ‘Selling by any means which is unethical should not be the aim.

Therefore, the upcoming advertisers must be aware of the ethics in advertising because that is the soul of India’s cultural heritage.

*[inspired from Hari S Kartha’s lecture on paid news. Written in 2008]