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March 29, 2011

PRSA Comments on Advertising Industry's New Ethics Code in Advertising Age Letter to the Editor

PRSA had a letter to the editor of Advertising Age published in the March 28, 2011, print and online editions, in response to a March 21 article on the American Advertising Federation's new ethics code. The AAF Ethics Code aims for greater transparency and disclosure in marketers' traditional and online communications and marketing.

Letters: Education, Not Enforcement, Key to Ethics Codes
Published: March 28, 2011


RE: "AAF’s Ethics Code Takes on Brand Integration, Endorsements” (AA, March 21).

There is much to like about the American Advertising Federation’s new ethics code. Its modernity and flexibility should meet current and future marketing challenges, and yet the code is rooted in core ethical principles recognizable by professionals of any generation.

The focus of any good ethics code must be education, not enforcement, to ensure buy-in from all parties. We commend the AAF on its commitment to ethics education. As PRSA learned during the 50 years we attempted to enforce our Code of Ethics, enforcement is both cumbersome and costly. It does little to address the big picture: ensuring professionals and agencies have proper guidance and education to ethically perform work on behalf of clients.

At a time when consumers are inundated with numerous marketing and sales messages through a variety of media, we simply cannot afford to allow our respective industries’ ethics to slip, even if the temptations to reach more customers, gain more consumer data or erase the necessary barriers between editorial and advertising become increasingly seductive. As more brands become content producers and aggregators, we must be especially proactive in addressing any type of advertiser connection that is not immediately apparent or otherwise communicated.

In January, PRSA submitted commentary to WOMMA’s annual ethics code review. We noted that the breadth of all communications, including advertising, and how far it now reaches, means that marketers have an ethical responsibility to reasonably inform consumers of the motivations and intent of use behind the messaging they receive — no matter the medium used. The AAF’s new ethics code appears to have adequately addressed this concern, among others.

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