Unethical advertising is defined as misrepresenting a product or service in a particular way, with the purpose of manipulating consumers into purchasing said product.
This type of advertising can prove difficult to spot to the average customer, considering that today’s campaign techniques are less ethical than ever before. We take in the content of paid promotions extremely quickly – and since they are everywhere we turn, we do not have time to process the intent and purpose of each one that we come across.
It is also clear that companies are very aware of the demographic toward whom they are targeting their products. For example, for years the tobacco and alcohol industries have been called out for gearing their marketing toward youth, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and those of lower income. These promotion tactics can include hiring popular celebrities among youth and deliberate packaging such as fun colors and flavors. Alcohol ads often show queer couples, use rainbow packaging and include messages of celebrating uniqueness.
People who are younger or who belong to minority groups already deal with a greater chance of mental and physical health disparities, as well as increased societal and peer pressure. This is why companies strategizing them as a target in order to sell more addictive substances only further contribute to their predisposed health complications.
Studies show that members of the LGBTQ+ community have higher rates of tobacco and alcohol abuse, and a report from the CDC shows that they are likely to rely on nicotine around 10% more than heterosexuals. They are also more than twice as likely to develop a serious substance use disorder. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the LGBTQ+ community misues substances, compared to just nine percent of the general population.
This is because historically, gay bars and clubs were one of the few accepting spaces that welcomed the community – with alcohol brands beginning to market their drinks specifically toward them in as early as the 1980s. Today, these advertisements have spread to pride parades, being placed strategically and as sponsors of queer TV shows and charities.
In 2015, an e-cigarette brand ‘blu’ was not afraid to hide that fact either, with their ads describing various freedoms like the freedom to “choose” and “marry,” with a drag queen promoting the “freedom to inhale.” It is without a doubt that these very deliberate advertising techniques are severely impacting health outcomes of a vulnerable population, with little regard at the hands of the companies who are making billions of dollars regardless of ethics.
While it may seem like there is little to be done, organizations at the state level as departments of health can utilize their position to spread awareness and educate members of minority groups of the risks and complications that the purchase of these products may ensue. Other steps the community can take is fighting for policies that make the purchase of flavored nicotine more difficult, as well as their excess marketing. It shouldn’t be morally acceptable to make your money by preying on people who you know are looking for ways to cope with life’s hardships.