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Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 33, Issue 1, Spring 2014

Ned Dobos
Pages 17-30

Advert-Evaluation and Product-Appraisal
A Two Way Street?

To what extent does the ethicality of an advertisement depend on the good or service being advertised? This question has engaged business ethicists for decades. Some say that an ad for something good is always good, while an ad for something bad is always bad. Others insist that advert-evaluation and product-appraisal are entirely independent of one another—the ethics of selling has nothing to do with what is being sold. In this paper I add another dimension to the debate. I do this not by offering an alternative answer to the question, but by inverting the questions itself. I ask: To what extent does our moral assessment of advertising influence our moral evaluation of particular products? I hope to show that one’s general attitude towards advertising invariably colours one’s appraisal of particular goods and services. If advertising is seen as a morally objectionable enterprise, products which may seem innocuous start to look not only useless, but baneful and corrupting. If advertising is seen as a morally, psychologically and socially valuable activity, the same innocuous products start to look fulfilling, enriching, and overall life-enhancing.