Ethics In Advertising And Promotion

When it comes to being an economic development professional, doing what is ethical is about doing what is right for the client and the community.

In 2011, I was asked by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) to author a handout for use in their Ethics Workshop. Given the importance of the topic, and with approval from IEDC, I thought I would share the information with you.

Ethics are the moral principles and values that govern the actions and decisions of an individual or group. They serve as guidelines on how to act rightly and justly when faced with moral dilemmas. In contrast, laws are society’s values and standards that are enforceable in the courts. But, there are numerous situations where judgment plays a large role in defining ethical boundaries. For perspective, actions that are technically legal could be considered unethical.

Pre-1960’s, caveat emptor (consumer beware) was the accepted ethical standard in the business world. But, that standard is no longer acceptable. In fact, it was forever changed when in 1962 President Kennedy introduced the Consumer Bill of Rights establishing six guidelines to protect consumers from unethical business practices. The right to be informed is particularly relevant for all advertising and promotion practices. This right states business should always provide consumers with sufficient information to make informed choices, and that the information provided should always be complete and truthful.

In that spirit, what follows is guidance, adapted from the ICC International Code of Advertising and Marketing Practice , to provide you additional perspective to the IEDC Code of Ethics as it relates to this specialized area. There is also additional information available in a previous blog post I authored on this subject.


The overriding principle is that all marketing communication should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. It should be prepared with a sense of professional responsibility and conform to the principles of fair competition. No communication should be such as to impair customer confidence in the economic development profession.

  • Marketing communication should not contain statements or visuals that offend standards of decency.
  • Relevant factors likely to affect a customer’s decisions should be communicated in a way and time so they can be taken into account.
  • Marketing communication should not play on fear or exploit misfortune.
  • Marketing communication should not appear to condone unlawful behavior.
  • Marketing communication should be truthful and not by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggeration mislead the customer
  • Marketing should not misuse research results or quotations of individuals.
  • Marketing claims made about a location should be capable of substantiation and that evidence should be available so it can be provided to any organization responsible for regulation of ethics of the profession.
  • When an advertisement appears in a medium containing news or editorial matter, it should be recognizable as an advertisement and the identity of the advertiser should be identifiable. Where appropriate, it should contain contact information to enable the customer to contact the advertiser.
  • Marketing communication that contains comparisons should comply with the principles of fair competition and be based on facts that can be substantiated and not unfairly selected.
  • Marketing communication should not denigrate any person, group of persons, organization or community.
  • Marketing should not contain any testimonial or endorsement unless it is genuine, verifiable and relevant.
  • Marketing communication should not imitate those of another marketer in any way likely to mislead or confuse the customer.
  • Those who collect data in connection with marketing communication activity should have a written privacy policy that is readily available to customers.
  • In any communication channel (including social media), if an opinion is put forward that could lead to an action that financially benefits the author (or employer), it should include a full disclosure statement.

How You Can Help

There are two ways you can play a leadership role in ensuring ethical behavior in place promotion.  The first is to walk the talk.  Be sure any promotion you fund to support your community is above reproach.  When making competitive claims, be certain you have the documented proof to back up your assertion.  If you do not, resist the temptation (and potentially your Board’s pressure) to simply make the claim anyway.  The second is to have the courage and challenge unethical practices as you notice them.  Failure to do so is the same as validating the practice.  This will be easier advice to follow if a competitor is making a misleading claim about your community.  But, it is just as important to call out even if your community is not involved.  The industry needs to be self policing.  If it isn’t, you can expect unethical behavior to continue unchecked, and that is bad for everyone.

Be Proactive – It Won’t Cost You A Dime

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