Cultural and Ethical Aspects of Advertising

Subject: Media
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 791
Topics: Advertising, Business Ethics, Ethics, Marketing

Advertising, despite being a primarily economic venture by brands, inherently has some cultural motivations and effects. While advertisements may target improving sales or brand perception in the market, some of them usually present critical ethical problems. One of such ads is based on a Chinese laundry detergent, Qiaobi, which openly issues a racial slur in its content. While the views of the brand are that the conceptions of racism are dependent on the opinions of an individual, it demonstrates the position that advertisement tends to overlook ethical values in the pursuit of commercial gain. 

The Qiaobi ad depicts a young black man and a young Chinese lady. The man approaches the girl in the laundry room with a tin of paint and some on his face, where she signals him to approach after he (rather obviously) expresses his interest. As he leans in to kiss her, she shoves a capsule of the detergent into his mouth then forces him into the washing machine. The man writhes inside the machine for some minutes while she sits on it. Finally, when the wash is done, a young Chinese man in a clean white shirt emerges, to the delight of the girl (Qiaobi, 2016). Essentially, the advertisement depicts a man being cleansed of his dirt, including his black colour, and making him more appealing. This advert is problematic primarily due to its offense on the black community, as well as its inherently promoting the belief that being black makes one unappealing and socially inferior. 

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The debate on advertising has often touched on the capacity of adverts to act as both social mirrors and a manipulator of society. The position is often that, while advertisements may promote particular social values, they are often constrained by the limit that society is willing to permit (Alexander, Crompton, & Shrubsole, 2011). The advert on the Chinese detergent exemplifies a situation that is blatantly offensive to one race, even though such a social mishap may not be as readily construed within society in China. The concept of racial cleansing is not only implicit in this ad, but also presented in rather bland terms due to its presence within a detergent or washing context. While the ad may not be an indicator that the Chinese are racist against black people, it has the capacity to induce perceptions of inadequacy among black youth living in this society. Advertising has the capacity to strengthen the values to which it appeals (Alexander et al., 2011). Therefore, the likelihood that the young in this society may develop racial attitudes following adverts like these is imminent.  

Businesses have a social responsibility to society, which they demonstrate in various perspectives of their operations. Advertising should remain strongly anchored in this aspect of social responsibility. Responsible companies need to recognize the values that they invoke within society, and work towards strengthening the positive values (Alexander et al., 2011). The Qiaobi advertisement, while propagating the commercial value of the brand, fails to recognize the perpetuation of racial divides and ethnic misconceptions within its content. Brands, especially while operating in a poorly regulated environment, may be reluctant to take action to counter instances of racism or such social divisions. This is akin to the bystander effect, where people fail to respond to emergencies when others are around them (Williams & Law, 2007). However, brands must recognize their individual responsibility in the society and pursue action as single entities. Such efforts will ensure that the organizations are not on the receiving end of public outrage over thoughtless advertisements such as the one by Qiaobi. 

The consumer may be aware of the implicit impact of advertising, especially where they have experienced adequate education on advertising content. Nevertheless, it is important that advertisers make more efforts to make the consumer more conscious of this impact (Alexander et al., 2011). For instance, a disclaimer on the possible propagation of racially contextualized views should be present in the Qiaobi ad. It is incomprehensible that the marketing team failed to recognize how the content could be racially offensive. Unless the brand purposefully sought to propagate such negative perceptions, a disclaimer could tone down the backlash. The actions not only prove the social awareness of the brand but also act to guide the development of social conceptions in the right perspective. 

The cultural impact of advertising is irrefutable. Brands make appeals to the conscious and unconscious senses of the buyer, seeking to create connections between them and the products on sale. While ads may not always increase sales, the ideology propagated within advertisements influences the general societal perceptions. Brands, therefore, require monitoring their content to ensure countering offenses like the racial slurs in the Qiaobi ad, thereby maintaining social responsibility in the pursuit of economic gain. 

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  1. Alexander, J., Crompton, T., & Shrubsole, G. (2011). Think of me as evil? Opening the ethical debates in advertising. Surrey: Public Interest Research Centre.
  2. Qiaobi (Director). (2016). Detergent advertisement [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from
  3. Williams, K., & Law, A. T. (2007). Bystander effect. New York: Sage.
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