ETHICS IN ADVERTISING
1. The importance of advertising is "steadily on the increase in modern
society."1 That observation, made by this Pontifical Council a quarter century
ago as part of an overview of the state of communications, is even more true
Just as the media of social communication themselves have enormous influence
everywhere, so advertising, using media as its vehicle, is a pervasive, powerful
force shaping attitudes and behavior in today's world.
Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has frequently
addressed the question of the media and their role and responsibilities.2 She
has sought to do so in a fundamentally positive manner, viewing the media as
"gifts of God" which, in accordance with his providential design, bring people
together and "help them to cooperate with his plan for their salvation."3
In doing so, the Church stresses the responsibility of media to contribute to
the authentic, integral development of persons and to foster the well being of
society. "The information provided by the media is at the service of the common
good. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and
It is in this spirit that the Church enters into dialogue with communicators.
At the same time, she also calls attention to moral principles and norms
relevant to social communications, as to other forms of human endeavor, while
criticizing policies and practices that offend against these standards.
Here and there in the growing body of literature arising from the Church's
consideration of media, the subject of advertising is discussed.5 Now, prompted
by the increasing importance of advertising and by requests for a more extensive
treatment, we turn again to this topic.
We wish to call attention to positive contributions that advertising can and
does make; to note ethical and moral problems that advertising can and does
raise; to point to moral principles that apply to this field; and, finally, to
suggest certain steps for the consideration of those professionally involved in
advertising, as well as for others in the private sector, including the
churches, and for public officials.
Our reason for addressing these matters is simple. In today's society,
advertising has a profound impact on how people understand life, the world and
themselves, especially in regard to their values and their ways of choosing and
behaving. These are matters about which the Church is and must be deeply and
2. The field of advertising is extremely broad and diverse. In general terms,
of course, an advertisement is simply a public notice meant to convey
information and invite patronage or some other response. As that suggests,
advertising has two basic purposes: to inform and to persuade, and while these
purposes are distinguishable both very often are simultaneously present.
Advertising is not the same as marketing (the complex of commercial functions
involved in transferring goods from producers and consumers) or public relations
(the systematic effort to create a favorable public impression or 'image' of
some person, group, or entity). In many cases, though, it is a technique or
instrument employed by one or both of these.
Advertising can be very simple a local, even 'neighborhood', phenomenon
or it can be very complex, involving sophisticated research and multimedia
campaigns that span the globe. It differs according to its intended audience, so
that, for example, advertising aimed at children raises some technical and moral
issues significantly different from those raised by advertising aimed at
Not only are many different media and techniques employed in advertising;
advertising itself is of several different kinds: commercial advertising for
products and services; public service advertising on behalf of various
institutions, programs, and causes; and a phenomenon of growing importance
today political advertising in the interests of parties and candidates. Making
allowance for the differences among the different kinds and methods of
advertising, we intend what follows to be applicable to them all.
3. We disagree with the assertion that advertising simply mirrors the
attitudes and values of the surrounding culture. No doubt advertising, like the
media of social communications in general, does act as a mirror. But, also like
media in general, it is a mirror that helps shape the reality it reflects, and
sometimes it presents a distorted image of reality.
Advertisers are selective about the values and attitudes to be fostered and
encouraged, promoting some while ignoring others. This selectivity gives the lie
to the notion that advertising does no more than reflect the surrounding
culture. For example, the absence from advertising of certain racial and ethnic
groups in some multi-racial or multi-ethnic societies can help to create
problems of image and identity, especially among those neglected, and the almost
inevitable impression in commercial advertising that an abundance of possessions
leads to happiness and fulfillment can be both misleading and frustrating.
Advertising also has an indirect but powerful impact on society through its
influence on media. Many publications and broadcasting operations depend on
advertising revenue for survival. This often is true of religious media as well
as commercial media. For their part, advertisers naturally seek to reach
audiences; and the media, striving to deliver audiences to advertisers, must
shape their content so to attract audiences of the size and demographic
composition sought. This economic dependency of media and the power it confers
upon advertisers carries with it serious responsibilities for both.
THE BENEFITS OF ADVERTISING
4. Enormous human and material resources are devoted to advertising.
Advertising is everywhere in today's world, so that, as Pope Paul VI remarked,
"No one now can escape the influence of advertising."6 Even people who are not
themselves exposed to particular forms of advertising confront a society, a
culture other people affected for good or ill by advertising messages and
techniques of every sort.
Some critics view this state of affairs in unrelievedly negative terms. They
condemn advertising as a waste of time, talent and money an essentially
parasitic activity. In this view, not only does advertising have no value of its
own, but its influence is entirely harmful and corrupting for individuals and
We do not agree. There is truth to the criticisms, and we shall make
criticisms of our own. But advertising also has significant potential for good,
and sometimes it is realized. Here are some of the ways that happens.
a) Economic Benefits of Advertising
5. Advertising can play an important role in the process by which an economic
system guided by moral norms and responsive to the common good contributes to
human development. It is a necessary part of the functioning of modern market
economies, which today either exist or are emerging in many parts of the world
and which provided they conform to moral standards based upon integral human
development and the common good currently seem to be "the most efficient
instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs" of a
In such a system, advertising can be a useful tool for sustaining honest and
ethically responsible competition that contributes to economic growth in the
service of authentic human development. "The Church looks with favor on the
growth of man's productive capacity, and also on the ever widening network of
relationships and exchanges between persons and social groups....[F]rom this
point of view she encourages advertising, which can become a wholesome and
efficacious instrument for reciprocal help among men."8
Advertising does this, among other ways, by informing people about the
availability of rationally desirable new products and services and improvements
in existing ones, helping them to make informed, prudent consumer decisions,
contributing to efficiency and the lowering of prices, and stimulating economic
progress through the expansion of business and trade. All of this can contribute
to the creation of new jobs, higher incomes and a more decent and humane way of
life for all. It also helps pay for publications, programming and productions
including those of the Church that bring information, entertainment and
inspiration to people around the world.
b) Benefits of Political Advertising
6. "The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the
participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the
governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who
govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when
Political advertising can make a contribution to democracy analogous to its
contribution to economic well being in a market system guided by moral norms. As
free and responsible media in a democratic system help to counteract tendencies
toward the monopolization of power on the part of oligarchies and special
interests, so political advertising can make its contribution by informing
people about the ideas and policy proposals of parties and candidates, including
new candidates not previously known to the public.
c) Cultural Benefits of Advertising
7. Because of the impact advertising has on media that depend on it for
revenue, advertisers have an opportunity to exert a positive influence on
decisions about media content. This they do by supporting material of excellent
intellectual, aesthetic and moral quality presented with the public interest in
view, and particularly by encouraging and making possible media presentations
which are oriented to minorities whose needs might otherwise go unserved.
Moreover, advertising can itself contribute to the betterment of society by
uplifting and inspiring people and motivating them to act in ways that benefit
themselves and others. Advertising can brighten lives simply by being witty,
tasteful and entertaining. Some advertisements are instances of popular art,
with a vivacity and elan all their own.
d) Moral and Religious Benefits of Advertising
8. In many cases, too, benevolent social institutions, including those of a
religious nature, use advertising to communicate their messages messages of
faith, of patriotism, of tolerance, compassion and neighborly service, of
charity toward the needy, messages concerning health and education, constructive
and helpful messages that educate and motivate people in a variety of beneficial
For the Church, involvement in media-related activities, including
advertising, is today a necessary part of a comprehensive pastoral strategy.10
This includes both the Church's own media Catholic press and publishing,
television and radio broadcasting, film and audiovisual production, and the rest
and also her participation in secular media. The media "can and should be
instruments in the Church's program of re-evangelization and new evangelization
in the contemporary world."11 While much remains to be done, many positive
efforts of this kind already are underway. With reference to advertising itself,
Pope Paul VI once said that it is desirable that Catholic institutions "follow
with constant attention the development of the modern techniques of advertising
and... know how to make opportune use of them in order to spread the Gospel
message in a manner which answers the expectations and needs of contemporary
THE HARM DONE BY ADVERTISING
9. There is nothing intrinsically good or intrinsically evil about
advertising. It is a tool, an instrument: it can be used well, and it can be
used badly. If it can have, and sometimes does have, beneficial results such as
those just described, it also can, and often does, have a negative, harmful
impact on individuals and society.
Communio et Progressio contains this summary statement of the problem:
"If harmful or utterly useless goods are touted to the public, if false
assertions are made about goods for sale, if less than admirable human
tendencies are exploited, those responsible for such advertising harm society
and forfeit their good name and credibility. More than this, unremitting
pressure to buy articles of luxury can arouse false wants that hurt both
individuals and families by making them ignore what they really need. And those
forms of advertising which, without shame, exploit the sexual instincts simply
to make money or which seek to penetrate into the subconscious recesses of the
mind in a way that threatens the freedom of the individual ... must be
a) Economic Harms of Advertising
10. Advertising can betray its role as a source of information by
misrepresentation and by withholding relevant facts. Sometimes, too, the
information function of media can be subverted by advertisers' pressure upon
publications or programs not to treat of questions that might prove embarrassing
More often, though, advertising is used not simply to inform but to persuade
and motivate to convince people to act in certain ways: buy certain products
or services, patronize certain institutions, and the like. This is where
particular abuses can occur.
The practice of "brand"-related advertising can raise serious problems. Often
there are only negligible differences among similar products of different
brands, and advertising may attempt to move people to act on the basis of
irrational motives ("brand loyalty," status, fashion, "sex appeal," etc.)
instead of presenting differences in product quality and price as bases for
Advertising also can be, and often is, a tool of the "phenomenon of
consumerism," as Pope John Paul II delineated it when he said: "It is not wrong
to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be
better when it is directed toward 'having' rather than 'being', and which wants
to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as
an end in itself."14 Sometimes advertisers speak of it as part of their task to
"create" needs for products and services that is, to cause people to feel and
act upon cravings for items and services they do not need. "If ... a direct
appeal is made to his instincts while ignoring in various ways the reality of
the person as intelligent and free then consumer attitudes and life-styles can
be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and
This is a serious abuse, an affront to human dignity and the common good when
it occurs in affluent societies. But the abuse is still more grave when
consumerist attitudes and values are transmitted by communications media and
advertising to developing countries, where they exacerbate socio-economic
problems and harm the poor. "It is true that a judicious use of advertising can
stimulate developing countries to improve their standard of living. But serious
harm can be done them if advertising and commercial pressure become so
irresponsible that communities seeking to rise from poverty to a reasonable
standard of living are persuaded to seek this progress by satisfying wants that
have been artificially created. The result of this is that they waste their
resources and neglect their real needs, and genuine development falls
Similarly, the task of countries attempting to develop types of market
economies that serve human needs and interests after decades under centralized,
state-controlled systems is made more difficult by advertising that promotes
consumerist attitudes and values offensive to human dignity and the common good.
The problem is particularly acute when, as often happens, the dignity and
welfare of society's poorer and weaker members are at stake. It is necessary
always to bear in mind that there are "goods which by their very nature cannot
and must not be bought or sold" and to avoid "an 'idolatry' of the market" that,
aided and abetted by advertising, ignores this crucial fact.17
b) Harms of Political Advertising
11. Political advertising can support and assist the working of the
democratic process, but it also can obstruct it. This happens when, for example,
the costs of advertising limit political competition to wealthy candidates or
groups, or require that office-seekers compromise their integrity and
independence by over-dependence on special interests for funds.
Such obstruction of the democratic process also happens when, instead of
being a vehicle for honest expositions of candidates' views and records,
political advertising seeks to distort the views and records of opponents and
unjustly attacks their reputations. It happens when advertising appeals more to
people's emotions and base instincts to selfishness, bias and hostility toward
others, to racial and ethnic prejudice and the like rather than to a reasoned
sense of justice and the good of all.
c) Cultural Harms of Advertising
12. Advertising also can have a corrupting influence upon culture and
cultural values. We have spoken of the economic harm that can be done to
developing nations by advertising that fosters consumerism and destructive
patterns of consumption. Consider also the cultural injury done to these nations
and their peoples by advertising whose content and methods, reflecting those
prevalent in the first world, are at war with sound traditional values in
indigenous cultures. Today this kind of "domination and manipulation" via media
rightly is "a concern of developing nations in relation to developed ones," as
well as a "concern of minorities within particular nations."18
The indirect but powerful influence exerted by advertising upon the media of
social communications that depend on revenues from this source points to another
sort of cultural concern. In the competition to attract ever larger audiences
and deliver them to advertisers, communicators can find themselves tempted in
fact pressured, subtly or not so subtly to set aside high artistic and moral
standards and lapse into superficiality, tawdriness and moral squalor.
Communicators also can find themselves tempted to ignore the educational and
social needs of certain segments of the audience the very young, the very old,
the poor who do not match the demographic patterns (age, education, income,
habits of buying and consuming, etc.) of the kinds of audiences advertisers want
to reach. In this way the tone and indeed the level of moral responsibility of
the communications media in general are lowered.
All too often, advertising contributes to the invidious stereotyping of
particular groups that places them at a disadvantage in relation to others. This
often is true of the way advertising treats women; and the exploitation of
women, both in and by advertising, is a frequent, deplorable abuse. "How often
are they treated not as persons with an inviolable dignity but as objects whose
purpose is to satisfy others' appetite for pleasure or for power? How often is
the role of woman as wife and mother undervalued or even ridiculed? How often is
the role of women in business or professional life depicted as a masculine
caricature, a denial of the specific gifts of feminine insight, compassion, and
understanding, which so greatly contribute to the "civilization of love'?"19
d) Moral and Religious Harms of Advertising
13. Advertising can be tasteful and in conformity with high moral standards,
and occasionally even morally uplifting, but it also can be vulgar and morally
degrading. Frequently it deliberately appeals to such motives as envy, status
seeking and lust. Today, too, some advertisers consciously seek to shock and
titillate by exploiting content of a morbid, perverse, pornographic nature.
What this Pontifical Council said several years ago about pornography and
violence in the media is no less true of certain forms of advertising:
"As reflections of the dark side of human nature marred by sin, pornography
and the exaltation of violence are age-old realities of the human condition. In
the past quarter century, however, they have taken on new dimensions and have
become serious social problems. At a time of widespread and unfortunate
confusion about moral norms, the communications media have made pornography and
violence accessible to a vastly expanded audience, including young people and
even children, and a problem which at one time was confined mainly to wealthy
countries has now begun, via the communications media, to corrupt moral values
in developing nations."20
We note, too, certain special problems relating to advertising that treats of
religion or pertains to specific issues with a moral dimension.
In cases of the first sort, commercial advertisers sometimes include
religious themes or use religious images or personages to sell products. It is
possible to do this in tasteful, acceptable ways, but the practice is obnoxious
and offensive when it involves exploiting religion or treating it
In cases of the second sort, advertising sometimes is used to promote
products and inculcate attitudes and forms of behavior contrary to moral norms.
That is the case, for instance, with the advertising of contraceptives,
abortifacients and products harmful to health, and with government-sponsored
advertising campaigns for artificial birth control, so-called "safe sex", and
SOME ETHICAL AND MORAL PRINCIPLES
14. The Second Vatican Council declared: "If the media are to be correctly
employed, it is essential that all who use them know the principles of the moral
order and apply them faithfully in this domain."21 The moral order to which this
refers is the order of the law of human nature, binding upon all because it is
"written on their hearts" (Rom. 2:15) and embodies the imperatives of
authentic human fulfillment.
For Christians, moreover, the law of human nature has a deeper dimension, a
richer meaning. "Christ is the 'Beginning' who, having taken on human nature,
definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of
charity towards God and neighbor."22 Here we comprehend the deepest significance
of human freedom: that it makes possible an authentic moral response, in light
of Jesus Christ, to the call "to form our conscience, to make it the object of a
continuous conversion to what is true and to what is good."23
In this context, the media of social communications have two options, and
only two. Either they help human persons to grow in their understanding and
practice of what is true and good, or they are destructive forces in conflict
with human well being. That is entirely true of advertising.
Against this background, then, we point to this fundamental principle for
people engaged in advertising: advertisers that is, those who commission,
prepare or disseminate advertising are morally responsible for what they seek
to move people to do; and this is a responsibility also shared by publishers,
broadcasting executives, and others in the communications world, as well as by
those who give commercial or political endorsements, to the extent that they are
involved in the advertising process.
If an instance of advertising seeks to move people to choose and act
rationally in morally good ways that are of true benefit to themselves and
others, persons involved in it do what is morally good; if it seeks to move
people to do evil deeds that are self-destructive and destructive of authentic
community, they do evil.
This applies also to the means and the techniques of advertising: it is
morally wrong to use manipulative, exploitative, corrupt and corrupting methods
of persuasion and motivation. In this regard, we note special problems
associated with so-called indirect advertising that attempts to move people to
act in certain ways for example, purchase particular products without their
being fully aware that they are being swayed. The techniques involved here
include showing certain products or forms of behavior in superficially glamorous
settings associated with superficially glamorous people; in extreme cases, it
may even involve the use of subliminal messages.
Within this very general framework, we can identify several moral principles
that are particularly relevant to advertising. We shall speak briefly of three:
truthfulness, the dignity of the human person, and social responsibility.
a) Truthfulness in Advertising
15. Even today, some advertising is simply and deliberately untrue. Generally
speaking, though, the problem of truth in advertising is somewhat more subtle:
it is not that advertising says what is overtly false, but that it can distort
the truth by implying things that are not so or withholding relevant facts. As
Pope John Paul II points out, on both the individual and social levels, truth
and freedom are inseparable; without truth as the basis, starting point and
criterion of discernment, judgment, choice and action, there can be no authentic
exercise of freedom.24 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Second
Vatican Council, insists that the content of communication be "true and within
the limits set by justice and charity complete"; the content should, moreover,
be communicated "honestly and properly."25
To be sure, advertising, like other forms of expression, has its own
conventions and forms of stylization, and these must be taken into account when
discussing truthfulness. People take for granted some rhetorical and symbolic
exaggeration in advertising; within the limits of recognized and accepted
practice, this can be allowable.
But it is a fundamental principle that advertising may not deliberately seek
to deceive, whether it does that by what it says, by what it implies, or by what
it fails to say. "The proper exercise of the right to information demands that
the content of what is communicated be true and, within the limits set by
justice and charity, complete. ... Included here is the obligation to avoid any
manipulation of truth for any reason."26
b) The Dignity of the Human Person
16. There is an "imperative requirement" that advertising "respect the human
person, his rightduty to make a responsible choice, his interior freedom; all
these goods would be violated if man's lower inclinations were to be exploited,
or his capacity to reflect and decide compromised."27
These abuses are not merely hypothetical possibilities but realities in much
advertising today. Advertising can violate the dignity of the human person both
through its content what is advertised, the manner in which it is advertised
and through the impact it seeks to make upon its audience. We have spoken
already of such things as appeals to lust, vanity, envy and greed, and of
techniques that manipulate and exploit human weakness. In such circumstances,
advertisements readily become "vehicles of a deformed outlook on life, on the
family, on religion and on morality an outlook that does not respect the true
dignity and destiny of the human person."28
This problem is especially acute where particularly vulnerable groups or
classes of persons are concerned: children and young people, the elderly, the
poor, the culturally disadvantaged.
Much advertising directed at children apparently tries to exploit their
credulity and suggestibility, in the hope that they will put pressure on their
parents to buy products of no real benefit to them. Advertising like this
offends against the dignity and rights of both children and parents; it intrudes
upon the parent-child relationship and seeks to manipulate it to its own base
ends. Also, some of the comparatively little advertising directed specifically
to the elderly or culturally disadvantaged seems designed to play upon their
fears so as to persuade them to allocate some of their limited resources to
goods or services of dubious value.
c) Advertising and Social Responsibility
17. Social responsibility is such a broad concept that we can note here only
a few of the many issues and concerns relevant under this heading to the
question of advertising.
The ecological issue is one. Advertising that fosters a lavish life style
which wastes resources and despoils the environment offends against important
ecological concerns. "In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and
grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive
and disordered way. ... Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth,
subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own
requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must
As this suggests, something more fundamental is at issue here: authentic and
integral human development. Advertising that reduces human progress to acquiring
material goods and cultivating a lavish life style expresses a false,
destructive vision of the human person harmful to individuals and society
When people fail to practice "a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and
spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the proper
identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies,"
then even material abundance and the conveniences that technology makes
available "will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible."30 Advertisers,
like people engaged in other forms of social communication, have a serious duty
to express and foster an authentic vision of human development in its material,
cultural and spiritual dimensions.31 Communication that meets this standard is,
among other things, a true expression of solidarity. Indeed, the two things
communication and solidarity are inseparable, because, as the Catechism of
the Catholic Church points out, solidarity is "a consequence of genuine and
right communication and the free circulation of ideas that further knowledge and
respect for others."32
CONCLUSION: SOME STEPS TO TAKE
18. The indispensable guarantors of ethically correct behavior by the
advertising industry are the well formed and responsible consciences of
advertising professionals themselves: consciences sensitive to their duty not
merely to serve the interests of those who commission and finance their work but
also to respect and uphold the rights and interests of their audiences and to
serve the common good.
Many women and men professionally engaged in advertising do have sensitive
consciences, high ethical standards and a strong sense of responsibility. But
even for them external pressures from the clients who commission their work as
well as from the competitive internal dynamics of their profession can create
powerful inducements to unethical behavior. That underlines the need for
external structures and systems to support and encourage responsible practice in
advertising and to discourage the irresponsible.
19. Voluntary ethical codes are one such source of support. These already
exist in a number of places. Welcome as they are, though, they are only as
effective as the willingness of advertisers to comply strictly with them. "It is
up to the directors and managers of the media which carry advertising to make
known to the public, to subscribe to and to apply the codes of professional
ethics which already have been opportunely established so as to have the
cooperation of the public in making these codes still better and in enforcing
We emphasize the importance of public involvement. Representatives of the
public should participate in the formulation, application and periodic updating
of ethical codes. The public representatives should include ethicists and church
people, as well as representatives of consumer groups. Individuals do well to
organize themselves into such groups in order to protect their interests in
relation to commercial interests.
20. Public authorities also have a role to play. On the one hand, government
should not seek to control and dictate policy to the advertising industry, any
more than to other sectors of the communications media. On the other hand, the
regulation of advertising content and practice, already existing in many places,
can and should extend beyond banning false advertising, narrowly defined. "By
promulgating laws and overseeing their application, public authorities should
ensure that 'public morality and social progress are not gravely endangered'
through misuse of the media."34
For example, government regulations should address such questions as the
quantity of advertising, especially in broadcast media, as well as the content
of advertising directed at groups particularly vulnerable to exploitation, such
as children and old people. Political advertising also seems an appropriate area
for regulation: how much may be spent, how and from whom may money for
advertising be raised, etc.
21. The media of news and information should make it a point to keep the
public informed about the world of advertising. Considering advertising's social
impact, it is appropriate that media regularly review and critique the
performance of advertisers, just as they do other groups whose activities have a
significant influence on society.
22. Besides using media to evangelize, the Church for her part needs to grasp
the full implications of the observation by Pope John Paul: that media comprise
a central part of that great modern "Areopagus" where ideas are shared and
attitudes and values are formed. This points to a "deeper reality" than simply
using media to spread the Gospel message, important as that is. "It is also
necessary to integrate that message into the 'new culture' created by modern
communications" with its "new ways of communicating... new languages, new
techniques and a new psychology."35
In light of this insight, it is important that media education be part of
pastoral planning and a variety of pastoral and educational programs carried on
by the Church, including Catholic schools. This includes education regarding the
role of advertising in today's world and its relevance to the work of the
Church. Such education should seek to prepare people to be informed and alert in
their approach to advertising as to other forms of communication. As the
Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, "the means of social
communication. ... can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them
less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice
moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media."36
23. In the final analysis, however, where freedom of speech and communication
exists, it is largely up to advertisers themselves to ensure ethically
responsible practices in their profession. Besides avoiding abuses, advertisers
should also undertake to repair the harm sometimes done by advertising, insofar
as that is possible: for example, by publishing corrective notices, compensating
injured parties, increasing the quantity of public service advertising, and the
like. This question of 'reparations' is a matter of legitimate involvement not
only by industry self-regulatory bodies and public interest groups, but also by
Where unethical practices have become widespread and entrenched,
conscientious advertisers may be called upon to make significant personal
sacrifices to correct them. But people who want to do what is morally right must
always be ready to suffer loss and personal injury rather than to do what is
wrong. This is a duty for Christians, followers of Christ, certainly; but not
only for them. "In this witness to the absoluteness of the moral good Christians
are not alone: they are supported by the moral sense present in peoples and by
the great religious and sapiential traditions of East and West."37
We do not wish, and certainly we do not expect, to see advertising eliminated
from the contemporary world. Advertising is an important element in today's
society, especially in the functioning of a market economy, which is becoming
more and more widespread.
Moreover, for the reasons and in the ways sketched here, we believe
advertising can, and often does, play a constructive role in economic growth, in
the exchange of information and ideas, and in the fostering of solidarity among
individuals and groups. Yet it also can do, and often does, grave harm to
individuals and to the common good.
0In light of these reflections, therefore, we call upon advertising
professionals and upon all those involved in the process of commissioning and
disseminating advertising to eliminate its socially harmful aspects and observe
high ethical standards in regard to truthfulness, human dignity and social
responsibility. In this way, they will make a special and significant
contribution to human progress and to the common good.
Vatican City, February 22, 1997, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the
John P. Foley
1 Communio et Progressio, 59, in AAS, LXIII
(1971), pp. 615-617.
2 For example: Vatican Council II, Inter Mirifica, in
AAS, LVI (1964), pp. 145-157; the Messages of Pope Paul VI and Pope
John Paul II on the occasion of the World Communication Days; Pontifical
Commission for Social Communications, Pastoral Instruction Communio et
Progressio, in AAS, LXIII (1971), pp. 593-656; Pontifical
Council for Social Communications, Pornography and Violence in the
Communications Media: a Pastoral Response, Vatican City 1989;
Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral Instruction
Aetatis Novae, Vatican City 1992.
3 Communio et Progressio, n. 2, loc. cit., pp.
4 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2494 (quoting
Vatican Council II, Inter Mirifica, n. 11).
5 See Pope PAUL VI, Message for World Communications Day
1977, in L'Osservatore Romano, May 13, 1977, pp. 1-2;
Communio et Progressio, nn. 59-62, loc. cit., pp. 615-617.
6 PAUL VI, Message for World Communications Day 1977,
loc. cit., p. 1.
7 JOHN PAUL II, Centesimus Annus, n. 34, in AAS,
LXXXIII (1991), pp. 835-836.
8 PAUL VI, Message for World Communications Day 1977,
loc. cit., p. 1.
9 JOHN PAUL II, Centesimus Annus, n. 46, loc. cit.,
10 Cf. Pontifical Council for Social Communications,
Pastoral Instruction Aetatis Novae, nn. 20-21, Vatican City 1992.
11 Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral
Instruction Aetatis Novae, n. 11, Vatican City 1992.
12 PAUL VI, Message for World Communications Day 1977,
loc. cit., p. 2.
13 Communio et Progressio, n. 60, loc. cit.,
14 JOHN PAUL II, Centesimus Annus, n. 36, loc.
cit., p. 839.
15 Ibid., pp. 838-839.
16 Communio et Progressio, n. 61, loc. cit.,
17 JOHN PAUL II, Centesimus Annus, n. 40, loc. cit.,
18 Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral
Instruction Aetatis Novae, n. 16, Vatican City 1992.
19 JOHN PAUL II, Message for World Communications Day
1996, in L'Osservatore Romano, Jan. 25, 1996, pp. 1, 6.
20 Pontifical Council for Social Communications,
Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media: a Pastoral Response,
n. 6, Vatican City 1989.
21 Inter Mirifica, n. 4, in AAS, LVI (1964),
22 JOHN PAUL II, Veritatis Splendor, n.53, in AAS,
LXXXV (1993), p. 1176.
23 Ibid., n. 64, loc. cit., p. 1183.
24 Cf. ibid., n. 31, loc. cit., pp. 1158-1159,
25 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2494, Vatican
City 1994 (quoting Vatican Council II, Inter Mirifica, n. 5).
26 JOHN PAUL II, Address to Communications Specialists, Los
Angeles, Sept. 15, 1987, in L'Osservatore Romano, Sept. 17, 1987,
27 PAUL VI, Message for World Communications Day 1977,
loc. cit., pp. 1-2.
28 Pontifical Council for Social Communications,
Pornography and Violence in the Communications Media: a Pastoral Response,
n. 7, Vatican City 1989.
29 JOHN PAUL II, Centesimus Annus, n. 37, loc.
cit., p. 840.
30 JOHN PAUL II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 33, in
AAS, LXXX (1988), p. 557.
31 Ibid., nn. 27-34, loc. cit., pp. 547-560.
32 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2496, Vatican
33 PAUL VI, Message for World Communications Day 1977,
loc. cit., p. 2.
34 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2498, Vatican
City 1994 (quoting Vatican Council II, Inter Mirifica, n. 12).
35 JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Missio, n. 37 (c), in
AAS, LXXXIII (1991), pp. 284-285.
36 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican City
1994, n. 2496.
37 JOHN PAUL II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 94, loc.
cit., p. 1207.