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What's Wrong with "Deceptive" Advertising?


In this paper I present a moral account of the legal notion of deceptive advertising. I argue that no harmful consequences to the consumer need follow from a deceptive advertisement as such, and I suggest instead that one should focus on the consequences of permitting the practise of deceptive advertising on society as a whole. After a brief account of ‘deceptive advertising’, I move to discuss the role of the reasonable person standard in its definition. One interpretation of this standard is empirical, aiming to objectify the quality of misleadingness in the advertisement. I offer an alternative normative interpretation which aims to draw the line between the advertiser's responsibility and that of the consumer, between misleading and miscomprehension. I then examine and reject several possible moral grounds for condemning and prohibiting deceptive advertising. These include: harm, in the sense of welfare, to the misled consumer; harm to competitors; and a violation or a reduction of the consumer's autonomy. Finally, I explain how the effect of the practise of deceptive advertising on society as a whole should inform our normative line-drawing between misleading and miscomprehension, and how it provides the basis for the moral evaluation of deceptive advertising.

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Attas, D. What's Wrong with "Deceptive" Advertising?. Journal of Business Ethics 21, 49–59 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005985723779

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  • Economic Growth
  • Harmful Consequence
  • Reasonable Person
  • Moral Ground
  • Moral Evaluation