[Do Advertisers Take Advantage Of Us]? — Really?

Adel Alaali
4 min readFeb 7, 2022

[Reference Question Posted Below.]

[edit in progress- 03/09]

The dogma advertisers take advantage of the gullible is no new news; it has been happening since man met women. And the premise of future receivables having a deduction from its present value is not something advertisers should have to teach the gullible, but rather something they should probably exercise via a disclaimer. As a postulation, consumers do not have the right to seek punitive damage over the confusion of nominal interest rates and the net effect on purchasing power. [personal note] → nobody nor any entity should be taxed for the ignorant’s misfortune, with the exception being the ignorant themselves. Ignorance is willful and oftentimes accepted as the norm — therein allaying significant culpability for the supposed provocateur.]

However, though similar in nature, ethical advertising and deceptive advertising are two different paradigms.

Committing oneself to deceptive advertising is the action of one rendering dubious/misleading information with the malfeasant intent to increase organizational revenues. Unlike ethical advertising (or the lack thereof), deceptive advertising is a zero-sum paradigm guaranteeing a falsehood does indeed exist within the advertisement’s framework. As such, deceptive practices are overt improprieties, such as misleading pricing, ‘price-fixing’ and ‘bait-sales’.

To be ethical, one must first consider to whom the consideration is being made too.

A CEO is beholden to the organization’s shareholders, which in turn is influenced by units sold and the cost to produce said goods. So if the CEO is beholden to shareholders, should he/she tell 100% of the truth beyond what is permitted within existing legal frameworks?

Therein lurks a salient peculiarity within our current legal framework: many legal grey zones exist because the ethical quandaries are largely untested. Lawmakers define malfeasances as ex-post-facto, wherein our hypothetical CEO’s measure for deception is defined a-priori. Therefore, given our legal frameworks approach of null-hypothesis-testing unethical advertising, one can conjecture how legal/ethical grey zones continually proliferate, and moreover, to which party our hypothetical CEO is actually being truthful too.

The CEO’s ‘truth’ (or lack, thereof) is construed to appease various audiences — the shareholders, the stakeholders, and the consumers. If the ‘truth’ has three audiences, then where does the truth truly lie?

Furthermore, this dilemma segways into what may be considered pervasive ethical conundrums which affect consumer behavior. As context, let’s consider the word ‘natural,’ the meaning ‘all-natural’ and introduce the hypothetical CEO from earlier.

Is the phrasing ‘all-natural product’ a true testament to the product actually a ‘healthy and/or all-natural consumer purchase? Though the phrases expressed and legal definitions vary, its implied meaning is consistent. Being an ‘all-natural’ product seemingly suggests that the product is indeed healthy, thereby coaxing the consumer-purchasing decision of health-conscious consumers.

Unbeknownst to many, though, our colloquial usage and definition of ‘all natural’ may be predisposed to the nuances imparted by the English language, such as ‘canned chicken actually being all-natural.’ (By decree of meta-physics, and chem-101, canned chicken is not at all ‘all-natural’, and in fact- could never be scientifically ‘all-natural.’ Nature tends to putrefy, rather than preserve.)

Therein a salient peculiarity resides within the retailing sector: product-label ambiguity is purposely leveraged by marketers because the riff-raff set-forth increases retail sales.

Per modern advertiser stratagem, the ambiguous definition of ‘all-natural-canned-chicken’ skews the true meaning of what is understood as a product and what is actually delivered, after leaving the retailer's shelves.

The consumer-marketer trifecta segways into a myriad of consumer-product questions, with many eventualities predicated by ‘what-if’, and ‘how about’. Such ‘what-ifs’ are largely left undefined by our current legal framework. This imposes an artificial presumption to ‘what could be considered truthful marketing’, and where the ‘redline’ exists within the marketers' framework. Moreover, lawmakers' seemingly abject failure in surreptitiously setting a ‘marketing redline’ sets a convenient precedent for ex post facto legal analysis. This furthermore creates unanswered conjectures for consumers, with retail-marketers more-or-less being defacto arbiters to product-labeling and related truthfulness.

Therein, the word ambiguity derived from ‘all-natural leaves our hypothetical CEO with several options; perhaps, moral judgment leads to truthful labeling, and our canned chicken is labeled ‘97% natural.’ Or, possibly not just label the package at all — but that positions the organization at an advertising disadvantage (one likely too exercised by competitors).

Being a smart and prudent CEO, our obvious choice would be to label the ‘canned-technically-not-all-natural’ chicken as ‘all-natural chicken.’ Why? perhaps, because legally, he can… and furthermore the CEO is beholden to the organizations' shareholders. Further compounding what may be considered a juncture, — advertising presumption and ethical leadership come at the cost of pugilism. And as such, even the most prudent leaders may face ethical quandaries → as their role is to keep the organization competitive, somehow. After considering such a prevue, and given the CEO’s fundamental responsibility of generating shareholder-equity; it would be safe to conjecture that the relatively unmitigated abuse of ‘product-label Jui-Jitsu’ (unethical/misguided advertising’) is an easier switch to flip, than having to turn over a hostile board.

The implied, expressed, and legal definition of ‘healthy’ and what ‘natural’ within retail is just one of many ethical grey zones coexistent within our legal framework. Consumers, be aware, and more importantly — remain informed.

[Cool Links] → https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/null-hypothesis

[QUESTION] →Businesses sometimes advertise that you should “Come try our product. If you do, we’ll give you $100 just for coming by!” If you read the fine print, what you find out is that they will give you a savings certificate that will pay you $100 in 25 years or so. Ethical Considerations: Take a look back at this example . Is it deceptive advertising? Is it unethical to advertise a future value like this without a disclaimer?