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The Ethical Predicament of Advertisements: an in-Depth Study of Publicizing Tobacco, Alcohol and Sexual Appeals.

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In the world of business, the advertising industry holds responsibility of providing promotions that fall under ethical boundaries and obey moral conduct. However, with the expansion and evolution of global communication, the fundamental meaning of human ethics has been progressively abused. This study’s central concern is the ethical dilemma plaguing advertisements in Lebanon. It focuses on how Lebanese people, especially the youth, are manipulated and influenced by the ethical digression exposed in advertisements. The three aspects examined were the portrayals of sexual appeals, alcohol and tobacco since they represent the most mistreated issues. The study used an electronic survey consisting of ten questions intended to depict the opinions of Lebanese people on current advertisements. It was found that the male and female participants mutually find present ads to be inappropriate when considering these aspects. Alcohol, tobacco and sexual portrayals pose a concern to the participants rendering them unethical. A general consensus proposed stricter regulatory measures to be taken against such advertisements. Lebanese advertisers must venture for opportunities and methods to publicize ideas and products without submitting them to immoral standards. Further recommendations and research gaps are presented in the study.


The Ethical Predicament of Advertisements:
An in-depth study of publicizing tobacco, alcohol and sexual appeals.
Imagine a world where humans are mentally captivated, fed through prescribed tubes and artificial packages and continuously exposed to selected dogmas, images and understandings. A situation seeming unbearable, torturous or even anachronistic, unfortunately describes the situation of our world today. We live in a world where the oblivious are pulled by the hungry strings of marketing industries and pushed to devour superfluous objects. Their preys are allured with colorful luscious adornments altering views and necessities. When intuition was once proficient at arbitrating circumstances, nowadays, with the disrupted messages and immoral issues promoted in ads, this magnificent gift has slowly crippled. (prevaricate)
Delusions have developed a face, it’s called advertisements. With the right dosage of enticement and beautification, an accessory or even a harmful product can involuntarily become a necessity. In the world of business, this process is called advertisement. Companies are clashing head to head to attract the majority of their consumers. Hence, it is of no doubt that their promotions are biased to their products. As a result, companies would do anything in their power to reach their goal: to increase sales and therefore their profit. Unfortunately, we face endless amounts of advertisements that actually support high-risk behaviors such as drinking and smoking by charming viewers with emotional and sexual appeals. Such ethical dilemmas are increasingly witnessed with the evolution of the business sector and the escalating series of demands of the people.
Lebanon is one of those countries that have witnessed a radical shift in its marketing approach. With time, advertisements have become more sophisticated, but more daring in other terms. Our advertisements are slowly being encroached with corrupted images and dogmas that demean our sacred morals. Currently, nudity and sexual provocation have blatantly been used everywhere as well as alcohol and tobacco campaigns. More shockingly, we find that Lebanese advertising companies are enforcing this approach as it may be believed to be an effective tactic.
For the better understanding of the situation in Lebanon, we need to further explore the world of advertisement, the unethical facets used and the effects of such ads on the targeted Lebanese consumer as a whole. The immoral use of tobacco, alcohol and sexual appeals are our primary concern. This research paper aims to highlight the effect of these unethical advertisements on the responsiveness of the Lebanese youth. Throughout the literature of this paper, the controversial effect of these appeals on people will be discussed. Subsequently, an assessment of the Lebanese people’s perceptions on these types of ads will be tackled thoroughly. 2. Literature Review:

For over sixty years, the predicament in hand has been tackled in numerous ways. Awareness campaigns, lectures, documentaries, articles and endless amounts of experiments and research has been contrived to answer psychological, biological, economical and sociological concerns. In the year 1949, F.B. Bishop wrote a book called The Ethics of Advertising that extensively scrutinizes the ethical problem in advertisements. It is one of the unique books in its time depicting several moral and ethical aspects of advertising and media. He states that advertisements are a way of misleading people by evoking feelings of comfort, power and pleasure by using untruthful promises, as well as awakening desires of unworthy goods to purchase. Moreover, he argues that advertisements promote what he refers to as “consumptionism”, a plague that many other writers and scientists agree upon.
Strasburger and Donnerstein tackle this subject in their article Children, Adolescents, and The Media: Issues and Solutions published in 1999. In their study, they explore the different ways the media is influencing children and adolescents with respect to their views on sex, tobacco, alcohol, guns and violence. Strasburger and Donnerstein conclude with the roles and responsibilities held by different parties (schools, media, governments) concerning regulatory measures they are entitled to. They entitle advertisements social responsibility for negatively influencing society because of their endless ethical violations.
Another consenter is Ashraf Kagee, the author of the article South African Psychologists’ Judgements of Widely Held Belief about Psychological Phenomena. In this study issued in 2009, Kagee proclaims that advertising holds critical social adversities since its primary role is to persuade using manipulative gestures of materialism and the satisfaction of consumption. Furthermore, he adds that adverts misuse the powerful utilization of stereotyping, pleasure of alcohol and tobacco and the repeated displays of nudity and sex appeals. It is apparent that the articles have a well-established common ground. They form a chronicle series of work that agree upon the ethical predicament foreseen in adverts and the deleterious influence they pose in relation to sex, tobacco and alcohol abuse onto society.
2.1) Exposing tobacco and alcohol:
Job Dubihlela is one of the recent writers on this subject. He conducted exhaustive research in South Africa studying the effect of advertisements exposing nudity, alcohol and tobacco onto society. His article titled Youth Attitudes Towards Advertisements Depicting Nudity and Alcohol: Ethical Dilemmas in Advertising, was a descriptive analysis published in 2011 and had many interesting implications. Dubihlela emphasizes that advertising alcohol has increasingly been associated with nudity and sex appeals. He blames the advertising companies for their immorality in their choices and the methods of communicating their products. He states that “the advertising industry’s lack of moral conscience may be deemed inappropriate in that they are aware that the implications of advertisements depicting nudity and alcohol are significant.” (p. 209) He adds that since there are no strict rules about restricting their use in advertisements, it is the corporate media’s responsibility to regulate. From this precise point emerges the ethical dilemma. Dubihlela highlights an important point that there is a critical distinction between “having the right” and “doing the right thing.” Because of this, people, especially children and adolescents, are being misled by not having clear value judgment in what they are seeing because to them, advertising tobacco and alcohol seems legitimate and accepted. He continues that advertisements are trying to attract and convince consumers using erotic images for consuming alcohol and tobacco (which are lethal substances that are primary causes for diseases and cancer) instead of publicizing awareness campaigns alerting people of their negative consequences. This clever and logical argument clearly shows that the way persuasion and attraction are used combats the ethicality of advertisements broadcasted nowadays.
Advertising alcohol and tobacco has not only deluded consumers, but has also posed a greater crisis: the encouragement of alcohol and tobacco abuse especially in teenagers and adolescents. An experimental study was prepared by Fischer et al. in 1991 to measure the influence of advertising on very young children, aged between three and six years old, by evaluating their ability to recognize different logos representing children and adult products and two cigarette logos. Two hundred twenty nine children were used in this experiment in two preschools in Georgia. In this study titled Brand Logo Recognition by Children Aged 3 to 6 Years, children were asked to match 22 different logos containing children, adult and cigarette products. It was observed that by the age of six, children were able to recognize all of the cigarette brands regardless of whether the participants had smoking or non-smoking family members at home. This shows the vulnerability and the danger associated with children by the influence of tobacco advertisements. Other studies tackling the same subject were by Evans et al. where in their study, Influence of Tobacco Marketing and Exposure to Smokers on Adolescent Susceptibility to Smoking, 3536 non-smoking adolescents were surveyed in California to evaluate their susceptibility to smoking. This study showed that susceptibility and reception were much greater by advertisement exposure than by smoking family members or friends.
This outcome applies to alcohol as well. Different experiments have been done using a similar approach as to tobacco studies. One of the many experiments was Grube’s study performed in 1994 named Alcohol portrayals and alcohol advertising on television: Content and effects on children and adolescents. Through descriptive analysis, this study observed the influence of alcohol portrayals on TV and different means of advertisement on the drinking patterns of adolescents. They found out that adolescents attributed wealth and happiness with alcohol because of the “too good to be true” references portrayed in advertisements usually showing happy elegant couples of the upper-class, fancy clothes, romance and expensive cars. It has also been concluded that alcohol advertising may predispose youths toward drinking to feel a linkage to that upper-status. A very similar research article proclaimed in 2009, titled The effect of alcohol advertising, marketing and portrayal on drinking behaviour in young people: systematic review of prospective cohort studies, had the same outcome. Lesley A. Smith and David R. Foxcroft, the authors of the article, executed longitudinal studies to understand the significance of alcohol ads onto adolescents’ cognition. They have stressed upon the same outcome as the one done by Grube and Wallak and added that there is an association between exposure to alcohol advertising and increased alcohol consumption in young people.
2.2) The use of women and sex appeals:
Sex sells: a sentence used frequently in the marketing world reflecting the primary drivers of successful advertising. The approach of using attractive displays of women has been used from the beginning of advertising history. It’s the easiest and quickest way to grab the attention of the vulnerable sex-driven consumers. Females, and recently males, have been used as sexual objects to promote ads of all kinds. An exclusive study done by Rouner et al., emphasizes how sex appeal and gender roles revealed in ads have controlled male and female cognition. The questionnaire prepared in the article, Adolescent Evaluation of Gender Role and Sexual Imagery in Television Advertisements (2003), claims that while women criticize ads containing sexual images and women (models), men feel more positive and energized about them. Given males’ sexual curiosity, and the fact that opposite sexes are attracted to each other, it is inevitable they would tend to be more attentive to such images. However, the study suggests that sexually appealing ads are more prone to criticism and attack by media and consumers themselves. Additionally, the study pinpoints another argument. Advertisements stereotype women as the dependent housewives or the luscious objects, and the man as the strong independent muscular entity. This opens up problems concerning gender roles and immoral standardization of genders.
In another research article published in 2001, Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents: A 10-Year Review of the Research, Suzan Villani highlights other critical problems attributed to children and adolescents with the rise of sexual images in advertisements and the media. She argues that erotic images of promiscuous women increases the risk of encouraging “sexual callousness” in attitude and behavior against women. Women subsequently are objectified in the eyes of society because of their degrading representations and devalued placement in ads. Moreover, Villani adds that mounting amounts of violence and sexual activities are witnessed with the frequent observations of sexually appealing images and women. Some examples of negative outcomes witnessed nowadays are sexual violence and hostility against women. Illustrating females as sexual icons has distorted the common norms and beliefs of gender roles and the humanity as a whole. The young and innocent minds are growing up with immoral images and dogmas of what to expect from female and male genders as portrayed in advertisements. Advertisements have created false illusions instead of revealing true moral standards of a living and equal expectations of both genders. 3. Methodology:

3.1) Primary Source:
Because of the time constraint and the meticulous findings in hand, a pragmatic electronic survey was devised to assist the circumstances of the study. The advertisement surveys were created on the website under the title, Ethics and Advertisement (see appendix). The link to the survey was then posted on Facebook and sent through emails to colleagues, friends and family members ( The study was devoted to findings related to the Lebanese articulations concerning local ads, therefore, the premise of the survey was confined in Lebanon. Thus, it was made sure that the surveys would be received by Lebanese people exclusively or residents in Lebanon. When potential subjects received the survey, they were notified through private messages that “this survey-based study is anonymous and devised to obtain data about their personal views on present advertisements portrayed to Lebanese consumers concerning sex, tobacco and alcohol and if current ads correspond to proper ethical and moral standards.” The results were strictly reliant on the results acquired through the website.
The survey integrates two subjects, a demographic section and an ethical-concerned section composed of eight precise and comprehensible questions the answers of which were clear-cut. A total of 72 surveys were completed within five days.

3.4) Data Analysis:

The answers to the ten questions were organized and separated into four different categories. The first category consisted of questions 1 and 2 for demographical analysis. Category two consisted of questions 3 and 4 aiming at identifying the Lebanese people’s attitude towards the morality of current advertisements. The third and fourth categories include questions 5-6-7 and 8-9-10 respectively. The former depicts the participants’ knowledge and view of the advertisements’ regulation system, whereas the latter shows their view of the ads publicizing smoking and alcohol and the effect they have on consumers and society as a whole. The results were directly extracted from in percentage scale. They were presented as bar graphs showing the participants’ answers, each question separately. 4. Results and Discussion:

Seventy two people participated in the online survey. The number of female participants (n=37) exceeded the number of male participants (n=27) where females made up 57.81% of the total number of participants and males 42.19%. Their ages ranged from 17 to above 32 years old. Participants of age ranging from 17-20 made up 52.78% (n=38), 21-24 made up 25% (n=18), 25-28 involved 11.11% (n=8), 29-32 entailed 4.17% (n=3) and finally five (6.94%) people above 32 years of age participated. The answer of the third question had 91.43% of the participants answering Yes (n=64) and 8.57% answering No (n=6). When asked the fourth question, Sex (n=47, 65.28%), Women (n=44, 61.11%), Honesty (n=27, 37.50%), Children (n=17, 23.61%) then Other (n=6, 8.33%) was answered in decreasing order. The fifth question had 28.17% answering Yes (n=20) and 71.83% answering No (n=51). In the sixth question, when asking about the responsibility of regulation, 31.94% (n=23), 41.67% (n=30), 50% (n=36), 72.22% (n=52), and 2.78% (n=2) held Families (Parents and Peers), Regulators, Society, Media and Other responsibility respectively. The seventh question had 92.86% (n=65) answering Yes, and 7.14% (n=5) answering No. The answers to question eight, nine and ten enclosed 34.72% (n=25) for Yes and 65.28% (n=47) for No, 21.74% (n=15) for Yes and 78.26% (n=54) for No and 68.06% (n=49) for Yes and 31.94% (n=23) for No respectively for each subsequent question. The bar graphs are provided in the Appendix.

Female subjects tended to be more interested in participating in this survey than male recipients. Moreover, more than half of the survey’s age group was compelled of participants from ages 17 to 20. This is primarily because the age reference of most of the people in my surroundings falls close to my age (19 years old). Thus demographically, this survey represents mostly adolescent’s judgment of the current ethical situation of advertisements. In the second category, the results of the questions show that there is great awareness of the inappropriate and unethical facet of advertisements being displayed in Lebanon. The participants show that they are able to recognize and differentiate between what is ethically right and wrong. To an abundant degree, the participants understand the concept of ethics and its limitations, except for a few that found all ads to be righteous and appropriate. When orally asking these particular recipients why they thought the ads were ethically appropriate, they responded that images of sex, tobacco and alcohol are legally present, experienced or consumed in real life, so they don’t find anything wrong with their exposure. Although it is legal, this doesn’t mean it should be allowed to encourage the consumption of alcohol. There is a clear-cut difference between the number of drinkers and the amount of alcohol consumed; both are lethal and problematic if their limits were trespassed. The participants believed that women and sex were almost equally the primary unethical issue. This result can be analyzed in many different ways. First of all, most of the participants were females and from previous references, it is proven that women are first to criticize and disapprove the use of sexual appeals and females (Rouner, 2003). Second, we live in a partially conserved community where the implementations of such tactics will cause criticism from the public. Last but not least, the participants are aware of the immoral side of portraying such images and the increase of their use in our local media.
The third category challenges the knowledge of the participants depicting their viewpoints of the regulatory measures exercised in Lebanon against unethical advertisements. From the obtained results, most of them reason that the advertisements aren’t being regulated as they should be. Their opinion of question five is directly related to the previous category. It is reasonable for ones who have seen inappropriate advertisements, to rationalize the fact that they are outcomes of no or minor implementations of strict regulations to prevent unethicality. Most of the participants believed the responsibility for regulating advertisements lies in the media’s hands. Despite the fact that the Lebanese government is entitled to monitoring ads, on grounds it is not the case. This fact is synchronized with Job Dubihlela as well as Strasburger and Donnerstein’s argument earlier in Chapter 2. The media should take charge, and moral responsibility, of supervising over what is exposed to people through advertisements in the absence of strict governmental laws. Furthermore, the participants also give regulators, society and family the responsibility. Strasbuger and Donnerstein agree that each can contribute in enhancing the contents of advertisements by advocating educational and realistic approaches to advertising.
The participants were consequently asked if they find that cigarette and alcohol advertisements should be further regulated. All participants, except five, agreed to regulating them. With the numerous number of explicit Marlboro, Davidoff, XXL, Black Label and many other cigarette and alcohol ads on Lebanese streets, television and magazines, it is obviously a sign that further regulations and restrictions should be made. In contrary to Lebanon, France and other European countries ban advertisements that promote tobacco and alcohol consumption. This is implemented in the interest of their people’s welfare and health. With the increasing exposure to ads publicizing tobacco and alcohol, people are more prone to abuse and consume these products that do not serve well for their national wellbeing (Vollstädt-Klein, 2010). While studying the neuronal cue activity of participants in reaction to tobacco ads, Vollstädt-Klein suggested that the “prohibition of tobacco advertisement in all media could possibly reduce tobacco consumption, especially in moderately dependent smokers, because this group particularly shows strong cue reactivity in response to tobacco advertisement.” This verifies the former judgment.
The participants, in the fourth category, were asked personal questions of their views on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco in relation to the presence of ads promoting such products. In the first question, most of the participants said that they weren’t influenced by tobacco, alcohol and sexually appealing promotions they see. However, it was earlier denoted that scientifically, people are affected by these advertisements to a certain extent. The more they see such ads, the more they are encouraged to try them (Evans et al., 1995). In the scientific article published by Vollstädt-Klein, she verifies that “moderately dependent smokers were particularly responsive to tobacco advertisement. In contrast, heavily dependent smokers seemed to be unaffected by tobacco related external cues.” Moreover, the study adds that non-smokers are not affected by promotions and ads of tobacco. Hence, the participants who declared not to be influenced by tobacco ads might be either in denial, non-smokers or heavy smokers. This also corresponds with the alcohol and sexual appealing ads. People who are concerned with being part of a bourgeois lifestyle might be more prone to drinking than others (Grube, 2013). Moreover, as stated earlier, when it comes to sexual appeals in advertisements, people are affected to some extent whether positively or negatively. These cues are processed and stored in the human to have future implications. The ones who answered Yes, are aware of their addiction and the effect the advertisements have on them.
In the next question, participants acknowledged that cigarette and alcohol ads should not be allowed. This is true because the restriction of such will lead to less consumption (Smith & Foxcroft, 2009). It is apparent that they know self-regulatory measures. Although lots of them agreed to the advertisements’ constraints, others believed they should be allowed. An analysis of such viewpoint would be either that the participants are non-smokers and drinkers and are not concerned with such ads, or conversely, the participants enjoy seeing such ads. The controversial issue lies in the last question of the survey questioning the prevalence of smoking and drinking occurrences if their advertisements were banned in Lebanon. While most of the participants agreed that the consumption of alcohol and tobacco would decrease, a fair amount of participants acclaimed that it wouldn’t make a difference. For apparent reasons, participants concluded that it would decrease. But the interesting viewpoint is the disagreement to such assumption. It can be argued that smoking is the bigger case in this scenario. Smoking in a way has been indulged in the Lebanese culture in the form of the popular Nargileh. Smoking the Nargileh hasn’t witnessed many ad campaigns as cigarette smoke, but prevails to be the most abundant figure around Lebanon. Hence, the participants might have shared this point of view in that the proliferation and popularity of the Nargileh was never based on or relative with the advertisements done by the media. In contrary, the Nargileh’s main advocate is its smokers. The Lebanese people themselves have spread this phenomenon around Lebanon and lately around the world. 6. Conclusion, Limitations and Recommendations:

The participants, mainly adolescents, know the value of ethics in advertisements. They know how to differentiate and recognize an appropriate ad from another. Lebanon needs extensive regulatory measures regarding tobacco, alcohol and sexually appealing ads. The society is affected by these advertisements to some extent and needs to be regulated. Thus to maintain good welfare of the society, the implementation of stricter regulations is believed to improve this issue.
Immediate measures should be taken to save the youth from predisposing false delusions and mentalities concerning sex, alcohol and tobacco. For the sake of national health and welfare, restrictions and further monitoring should be implemented by the government and the media. The media should be more concerned with their consumers’ reputation rather than their prosperity in the business world. Advertising companies are advised to abstain from the use of nudity, women and sexual appeals in their ads. It is important to denote that women and sexual appeals should not be allowed to be used to promote goods because of its demoralizing and demeaning implications. A woman is a human with brilliant moral and intellectual characteristics, with equal capabilities to any man. In fact, some products and services can be equally strong and influencing without the use of such methods. The society should be exposed to more awareness campaigns concerning the negative consequences of alcohol and tobacco. KunHadi is an excellent example of implementing awareness campaigns beneficial to the wellbeing of Lebanese drivers. The media, government, schools, parents have a responsibility to encourage positive ad campaigns that increase awareness of detrimental issues and products and simultaneously enhances education and the welfare of society as whole.
This research paper had few limitations that render it incomplete and unreliable. Since it is not an exhaustive study, not a lot of references were used. The number of participants clearly is not sufficient to collect adequate data for the study. Thus further studies with greater local references should be done in this field. This study might be an initiation for further studies to be prepared. It is recommended to examine the relation between the advertisements’ portrayals and its influence on the Lebanese society with respect to its cultural norms and customs. Studies could be done to help construct more creative strategies that could be used to match the cultural circumstances and environment of Lebanon. References

Bishop, F. B. (1949). The ethics of advertising. (1st ed.). London: Robert Hale.
Dubihlela, J. (2011). Youth attitudes towards advertisements depicting nudity and alcohol: ethical dilemmas in advertising. South African Journal of Psychology,41(2), 207-217.
Evans et al. (1995). Influence of tobacco marketing and exposure to smokers on adolescent susceptibility to smoking. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 87(20), 1538.
Fischer et al. (1991). Brand logo recognition by children aged 3 to 6 years. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 266(22), 3145.
Grube, J. (2013). Alcohol portrayals and alcohol advertising on television: Content and effects on children and adolescents. Alcohol Health & Research World,17(1), 1993. doi:
Kagee, A. (2009). South african psychologists' judgments of widely held beliefs about psychological phenomena. South African Journal of Psychology, 39(2), 195-201. doi: ://
Rouner, D. (2003). Adolescent evaluation of gender role and sexual imagery in television advertisements.Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media,47(3), 435-454.
Smith, L., & Foxcroft, D. (2009). effect of alcohol advertising, marketing and portrayal on drinking behaviour in young people: systematic review of prospective cohort studies. BMC Public Health,9(1), 1-11.
Strasburger, V., & Donnerstein, E. (1999). Children, adolescents, and the media: Issues and solutions.PEDIATRICS, 103(1), 129-139.
Villani, S. (2001). Impact of media on children and adolescents: A 10-year review of the research.Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(4), 392.
Vollstädt-Klein, S. (2010). Severity of dependence modulates smokers’ neuronal. Addiction Biology, 16(1), 166-175.

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