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Whether or how to rationalize a particular advertisement hinges on a number of factors. Assuming the purpose of the rationalization is not to justify use of a blatantly offensive or fraudulent advertisement, then the question becomes one of properly targeting the right audience for emotional or mental manipulation. Advertising has been around for centuries because businesses have consistently found it necessary to market their products or services to an ever-expanding or changing demographic, or carefully identified category of people for whom the product or service is intended and from whom the potential financial rewards are greatest.
Advertising companies are paid, and paid well, to identify a niche market for a product or service and formulate strategies for how to appeal to that market. A company that seeks to maximize the potential of a key demographic, for example, the 18 to 30 market for a particular type of apparel, will use images and sounds likely to resonate with that particular group of consumers. Use of a popular song or tune accompanying images of young adults engaging in a “fun” activity is a common practice for advertisers seeking to appeal to the young, upwardly mobile demographic. Marketing aimed at a more mature audience will obviously utilize sets and images oriented toward that category of consumer. For example, common advertisements showing the elderly and physically disabled using the latest in motorized wheelchair technology while engaged in an upbeat activity, or simply carrying out everyday tasks, are clearly designed to convince that target audience of that purchase of that product will improve the quality of their lives.
Within the confines of federal guidelines regulating advertising exists considerable space for creative advertising. Rationalizing misleading advertisements can only occur in the very narrow and morally indefensible realm of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Knowingly broadcasting fraudulent advertisements is illegal, but circumventions of laws restricting fraudulent advertisements need only survive legal scrutiny long enough to have an impact on some part of the intended audience. Such practices, however, are hardly appropriate and, in the event they lead to injury, can expose the advertising agency and its client to civil liability in a legal proceeding.
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