According to the Finnish Consumer Protection Act, marketing may not violate good practices. This means that advertisements may not communicate values that go against the principles that are generally accepted in society.
These values are taken directly from legislation: the use of violence is not acceptable in advertising, there may be no discrimination based on gender or ethnicity, and the rights of children must be taken into account.
Compliance with good practices in marketing is also a sign of the advertiser’s corporate responsibility, i.e. the extent to which the company respects shared values and what it wants to communicate concerning its own values.
Discrimination in advertising
Discriminatory advertising is advertising that subjugates, demeans or insults someone on the basis of their gender, religion, ethnicity or disability. Discriminatory attitudes that already exist in society may not be reinforced by advertising. For example:
- Presenting a naked or scantily-clad person in an advertisement does not necessarily constitute sexism. However, demeaning a certain gender or presenting it in a sexist and derogatory manner is forbidden. Advertising goes against good practices when it relies excessively on sexuality for its impact, and its presentation method is demeaning to either men or women.
- The use of religious symbols in marketing almost without exception arouses strong feelings, so it is important to take this into account in a multicultural society. Making commercial use of the religious experience may easily be seen as offensive or distressing. In spite of this, even if many feel it is tasteless or generates negative feelings the advertisement may not necessarily be in breach of good practices. The essential aspects to take into account when assessing religious references in advertising are:
- Whether the symbols used are naturally connected to the product being advertised. If there is no connection, the advertisement could be derogatory and defamatory of symbols that some consider to be holy.
- What kind of a role the religious symbol plays in the advertisement: is it the centre of attention or of lesser significance? Although religious expressions are common in colloquial language and may have lost their original meaning, their use should be considered very carefully.
- Different cultures and ethnic groups must be presented as equal in advertising. Discrimination against any ethnic group always can also have a more extensive social impact in that prejudices and attitudes could be extended to apply to all ethnic minorities.
Violence in advertising
Marketing is one way of communicating the prevalent values in society. Violent behaviour and damage to another person’s property are not considered acceptable, so the use of violence for marketing impact is in principle against good practice.
The use of humour does not justify violence either; on the contrary, a humorous attitude may trivialise objections against violence and create an image of acceptable behaviour.
An advertisement that is threatening or frightening in tone may be just as oppressive as real violence. This kind of advertising goes against good practice, especially when it contains elements that are frightening for children and may be accessible to children (even if it is not directed at them).
Indifference in advertising
Advertisements affect the value base of society and may gradually turn undesirable behaviour models into acceptable or even glamorous ones. Indifference towards safety in advertising may particularly lead to dangerous situations arising from people imitating the actions seen in the advertisement. An advertisement is usually in violation of good practice if it breaches the safety regulations associated with products or services.
Attention must be paid to the marketing channel used when assessing the acceptability of marketing. Outdoor advertising occupies a public space and no one can be prevented from encountering it. For this reason, advertisements placed on outdoor furniture, in windows and in public transport may be more susceptible to a breach of good practice.
The citizens’ right to an undisturbed living environment must be taken into account when designing marketing. Children should not be subjected to advertisements containing elements, for example sexual ones, which are unsuitable for their age and maturity.
Underage children are usually only developing their critical thinking and understanding of irony. For this reason, children are more susceptible to the effects and impacts of advertising. Good marketing practices entail that this characteristic may not be forgotten – and must not be exploited.
Advertisers must respect the gullibility and inexperience of children. Therefore, advertisements may not present inappropriate behaviour models to children, or imply that their lives will be better if they buy the right products.
As their children’s guardians, parents have the right to decide on the family’s purchases without undue pressures caused by influence on children.
For example, in marketing products that are of interest to children, the presentation of free gifts may not be the focus of attention in advertisements or on packaging. A free toy of insignificant monetary value may be more tempting to a child than the product itself, which makes it an easy way of influencing purchase decisions.
Child actors may be used in advertising as long as children naturally fit the environment presented in the advertisement, or if they are essential for demonstrating the use of the product in question. Direct incitements to buy may not come out of a child’s mouth, however.
Children as consumers
Recognisability of advertising