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Examining the Nexus between Advertising Ethics and Culture

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2021
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


At its most fundamental level, ethics is often understood as a reference to “just or “right” standards of behaviour between parties in a situation, based on individual moral philosophies” (Bush and Bush 1994, p. 32).  By extension, advertising ethics tends to focus on “what is right or wrong in the conduct of the advertising function, and concerns questions of what ought to be done, not just what legally must be done” (Cunningham 1999, p. 500).  Classifications of ad ethics differentiate between message (or content) and business ethics (Drumwright and Murphy 2009; Drumwright 2012). Message ethics relates to the ethical parameters surrounding the creation, dissemination and processing of ad messages or the ‘micro’ perspective (Drumwright, 2012) of ad ethics. In contrast, a business ethics approach adopts an organisational or ‘meso’ perspective (Drumwright, 2012) and deals with the ethics of the ad industry. The focus within this stream has been on uncovering practitioner attitudes towards ad ethics (Drumwright and Murphy 2004; Drumright and Kala 2016) or on how ad agencies should manage ethics (e.g. Hyman et al. 1990; Drumwright and Murphy 2009; Hyman 2009). Linking both these streams is yet a third more earlier perspective based on a largely philosophical or ‘macro’ approach (Drumwright 2012) focusing on the aggregate effects of advertising. Here, the debate revolves around whether advertising serves as a ‘mirror’, merely reflecting the values of its target audiences (Holbrook 1987) or instead as a ‘distorted mirror’, and therefore as a manipulator of audience values (Pollay 1986; 1987). Despite the rich stream of studies exploring specific domains of consumer ad ethics, our knowledge of what constitutes ad ethics purely from a consumer’s perspective remains much more limited. As a result, our understanding of the relationship between different audience derived ethical domains is also lacking.

Compounding the aforementioned gap in knowledge, is the notable absence of exploring ad ethics from different cultural perspectives beyond Western markets (Drumwright and Kala 2016; Moon and Franke 2000). As Drumright and Kamal (2016, p. 173) argue this gap in our knowledge “has not received attention commiserate with its importance”. The notion that ethics vary across cultures has a rich and established tradition (Casmir 2013). Consumer perceived ethics are also dependent on cultural variations and by default, perceived ad ethics is also bound by a cultural dilemma since the target audience’s “culture filters our perceptions of what constitutes good or responsible consumption” (Belk et al. 2005, p. 7).  Rising concerns of ad ethics in the popular and trade press of other global marketing contexts warrants extending the contextual domain of ad ethics (Drumright and Kamal 2016). As LaFerle (2015, p. 163) notes, if ad agencies are to succeed in an increasingly diverse marketplace, then “ethical behaviour and cultural knowledge are key”.  This study therefore proposesto extend the domain of ad ethics by seeking investigate the structure of ad ethics from a cross cultural perspective. In doing so, a new understanding is sought on the relationship between ad ethics and cultural values.


Given that the relationship between ad ethics and cultural values can be assessed at numerous levels and from different perspectives, either qualitative research (e.g. interviews), quantitative research (e.g. structural equation modelling) or mixed methods may be deployed.


Belk, R.W., Devinney, T., & Eckhardt, G. (2005). Consumer ethics across cultures. Consumption Markets & Culture, 8(3), 275-289.

Bush, A.J., & Bush, V.D. (1994). The narrative paradigm as a perspective for improving ethical evaluations of advertisements. Journal of Advertising, 23(3), 31-41.

Casmir, F, L. (2013). Ethics in intercultural and international communications. Routledge. New Jersey.

Cunningham, P.H. (1999). Ethics of advertising, In J. P. Jones (Ed.), The advertising business (pp. 499-513). Sage, London.

Drumwright, M.E., & Murphy, P.E. (2004). How advertising practitioners view ethics - moral muteness, moral myopia, and moral imagination. Journal of Advertising, 33(2), 7-24.

Drumwright, M.E. (2012). Ethics and advertising theory. In Rogers Shelly and Esther Thorson,  Advertising Theory,  463-479. Routledge, New York.

Drumwright, M.E., &  Kamal, S. (2016). Habitus, doxa, and ethics: insights from advertising in emerging markets in the Middle East and North Africa. Consumption Markets & Culture, 19(2), 172-205.

Hyman, M.R., Tansey, R., & Clark, J.W. (1994). Research on advertising ethics: past, present, and future. Journal of Advertising, 23(3), 5-15.

Holbrook, M.B. (1987). Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Whose the fairest of us all. Journal of Marketing, 51(6), 104-109.

LaFerle, C. (2015). The Intersection of Culture and Advertising Ethics in a Global Marketplace. Persuasion Ethics Today, p.162-181, In Duffy, Margaret, and Esther

Thorson, eds. Persuasion ethics today. Routledge.

Pollay, R. (1986). The distorted mirror: Reflections on the unintended consequences of advertising. Journal Of Marketing, 50(4),18-36.

Pollay, R (1987). On the value of reflections on the values in "The Distorted Mirror". Journal of Marketing, 51(6), 104-109.


Nazan Colmekcioglu

Entry qualifications

An applicant for admission to read for a PhD should normally hold a first or upper second class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second class honours degree with a Master's degree at Merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements. A research proposal (between 1,000 and a maximum of 2,000 words) must be submitted as part of the application.

For more information please visit the NTU Doctoral School – Research Degrees webpages.

How to apply

Applications are accepted all year round.

For a step-by-step guide and to make an application, please visit our how to apply page.

Fees and funding

This is a self-funded PhD opportunity.

Guidance and support

Further information on guidance and support can be found on this page.

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Nazan Colmekcioglu