Shocking, offensive and controversial receptions of UK public and non-profit advertising campaigns: a multi-stakeholder, regulatory and rhetorical analysis
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date26/11/2021
Advertising is commonly criticised for being pervasive, offensive, manipulative, harmful and irresponsible. This thesis focuses on the subjective criticisms and complex issues related to taste, decency, morality and offence, particularly as applied to, and understood within, the public and non-profit contexts. It is positioned at the intersection of marketing communications, marketing ethics, and social and non-profit marketing and explores how shocking, offensive and/or controversial (SOC) advertising appeals are interpreted, regulated and contested, by divergent groups of people. The approach taken is inspired by stakeholder theory and its focus on ethical decision-making for the betterment of all stakeholders. A mixed methods research design was adopted, resulting in three studies and these are presented as three discrete articles. Article I maps the field of existing research into SOC advertising and identifies gaps in our knowledge by means of a systematic literature review. It offers a critical appraisal of the field by highlighting definitional tensions, limited interdisciplinary work and an overdependence on student samples, on quantitative analysis and on non-longitudinal methodologies. It then proposes a series of remedies to these shortcomings. The second and third papers continue this reparative work by conceptualising and analysing actual SOC advertising interpretations and contestations. Article II explores the interpretations and experiences of SOC advertising within the regulatory context by analysing evidence from complainants, advertisers and regulatory bodies. It then proposes and develops an interpretation of the implicit power dynamics through which their contradictory interests overlap. The methodology underpinning this chapter combines a thematic content analysis of a substantial archive of complaints submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) with an interpretation of case adjudication reports influenced by the work of Michel Foucault. The findings suggest that the regulation of SOC advertising prioritises the interests of firms and advertisers by relegating the role of complainant to that of merely registering complaints. The focus of Article III moves from the regulatory framework to the complained-about advertisements themselves. It provides an innovative theoretical and methodological approach to analysing SOC advertisements, rooted in the classic Aristotelian notion of rhetorical appeals and figuration, by developing and analysing a carefully selected example in detail. The analysis reveals an implicit NFP sector-specific appeal to ethos and the importance of a complex appeal to pathos. Each of the papers offers a different level of analysis of the often-contradictory viewpoints represented by stakeholder groups involved in, or affected by, the use of SOC advertising tactics. These viewpoints include academics, general consumers, the vocal minority of complainants, the advertisers including the non-profit and public organisations and the advertising creatives, and the advertising regulator. Taken together, the papers amount to a thesis that makes an important contribution to debates about the appropriateness, ethics, and application of SOC themes, formats and imagery in social and non-profit advertising. By exploring the regulatory processes of the ASA, an exemplary advertising self-regulatory body, it further contributes to the discourse on self-regulatory practices and highlights an NFP sector-specific consequentialist approach that appears to stifle the voice of the offended complainant. On a practical level, this work has implications for advertising practitioners and advertising regulators who are involved in producing and regulating advertising that uses SOC tactics.