Controversial Online Advertising


The Ethics of Controversial Online Advertising, Special theme Journal of Business Ethics, Edited by Caroline Moraes and Nina Michaelidou; Deadline 1 Apr 2014

Call for Papers

Journal of Business Ethics Special Thematic Symposium:
The Ethics of Controversial Online Advertising

Guest editors:

Dr Caroline Moraes, Coventry University, UK
Dr Nina Michaelidou, Loughborough University, UK

Over the past 20 years much research has been carried out in the field of consumer and marketing ethics (Hunt and Vitell, 2006; Nwachukwu et al., 1997; Vitell, 2001; Vitell, 2003; Vitell and Muncy, 2005; Vitell, Singhapakdi and Thomas, 2001; Vitell et al., 2009; Vitell, Paolillo and Singh, 2006; Vitell, Singh and Paolillo, 2007). However, few journals have devoted specific attention to controversial advertising.

Controversial advertising can be defined as advertising that may be considered offensive and unethical due to the use of shock, fear or sexual appeals, for example, in order to cut through the media clutter, and gain consumer attention and awareness. Although research has been done on the ethical issues linked to controversial advertising offline (Drumwright and Murphy, 2009; Fam and Waller, 2003), little is known about the use and role of controversial advertising on the internet, and what consumers think, feel and how they respond to such types of online ads.

While digital advertising spend has continued to rise (eMarketer, 2013) and social media such as Facebook and YouTube have been used extensively by companies to promote brands (Mangold and Faulds, 2009), there has been a decline in click-through rates, an increase in consumer complaints about online advertising (Plunkett, 2010), and recent research showing advertising avoidance on Facebook (Michaelidou and Moraes, 2011) which may well be linked to negative consumer attitudes toward the shocking ad appeals used by digital marketers. Therefore, a deeper understanding of the ethical issues linked to controversial advertising online is needed.

The aim of this Journal of Business Ethics special thematic symposium is to fill this knowledge gap and to advance our understanding of the interconnections between advertising ethics, online marketing communications, and consumer attitudes and responses toward digital advertising (e.g., online and social media advertising). Therefore, the guest editors encourage submissions offering new studies and original insights into the links between these research areas. All rigorous conceptual and empirical works using qualitative and/or quantitative methodologies are welcome. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Consumer attitudes toward controversial advertising online;
  • Consumer complaints regarding controversial advertising online;
  • Comparisons of consumers’ and practitioners’ views on the morality of controversial advertising online;
  • Differences in attitudes toward controversial ad appeals depending on the type of online media (e.g., social networking websites versus video-sharing websites);
  • Measurement issues related to assessing the perceived degree of controversy of advertising appeals online;
  • Modelling of controversial advertising avoidance online;
  • Normative assessments of the ethical issues linked to controversial online advertising;
  • Consumer resistance to controversial advertising online;
  • Subversion of controversial online ads due to moral beliefs;
  • The link between advertising avoidance and controversial advertising appeals online, if any;
  • The tactics and strategies used by consumers to avoid controversial advertising online, if any.

European and cross-cultural perspectives are particularly welcome. Informal queries regarding guest editors’ expectations or the suitability of specific research topics can be directed to Dr Caroline Moraes ( or Dr Nina Michaelidou (

Submissions to the special thematic symposium can be made after April 1, 2014. The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2014. All submissions should be done through Editorial Manager at

Please follow JBE guidelines for manuscript presentation, available at


Drumwright, M. E. and P. E. Murphy: 2009, ‘The Current State of Advertising Ethics: Industry and Academic Perspectives’, Journal of Advertising, 38, 83-108.

eMarketer. 2013. ‘Traditional Media Ad Spend Dips Lower as More Dollars Shift to Digital’, March 14, retrieved on April 22, 2013 from

Fam, K.S. and D. S. Waller: 2003, ‘Advertising Controversial Products in the Asia Pacific: What Makes them Offensive?’, Journal of Business Ethics, 48, 237–250.

Hunt, S.D. and S.J. Vitell: 2006, ‘The General Theory of Marketing Ethics: A Revision and Three Questions’, Journal of Macromarketing 26(2), 143-153.

Mangold, W. G. and D. J. Faulds: 2009, ‘Social Media: The New Hybrid Element of the Promotion Mix’, Business Horizons, 52, 354-365.

Michaelidou, N.and C. Moraes: 2011, ‘The Role of Social Networking Sites in Promoting Alcohol: The Impact on Young People’, Alcohol Education and Research Council report, UK.

Nwachukwu, S.L.S., S.J. Vitell Jr., F.W. Gilbert and J.H. Barnes: 1997, ‘Ethics and Social Responsibility in Marketing: An Examination of the Ethical Evaluation of Advertising Strategies’, Journal of Business Research 39(2), 107-118.

Plunkett, J.: 2010, ‘ASA to Regulate Social Media Marketing’, The Guardian, 1 September 1, 2010, retrieved on October 10, 2010 from

Vitell, S., J. Paolillo and J. Singh: 2006, ‘The Role of Money and Religiosity in Determining Consumers’ Ethical Beliefs’, Journal of Business Ethics 64(2), 117-124.

Vitell, S., J. Singh and J. Paolillo: 2007, "Consumers’ Ethical Beliefs: The Roles of Money, Religiosity and Attitude Toward Business", Journal of Business Ethics 73(4), 369-379.

Vitell, S., M. Bing, H. Davison, A. Ammeter, B. Garner and M. Novicevic: 2009, "Religiosity and Moral Identity: The Mediating Role of Self-Control", Journal of Business Ethics 88(4), 601-613.

Vitell, S.J. and J. Muncy: 2005, ‘The Muncy-Vitell Consumer Ethics Scale: A Modification and Application’, Journal of Business Ethics 62(3), 267-275.

Vitell, S.J., A. Singhapakdi and J. Thomas: 2001, ‘Consumer Ethics: An Application and Empirical Testing of the Hunt-Vitell Theory of Ethics’, Journal of Consumer Marketing 18(2), 153-178.

Vitell, S.J.: 2001, ‘Introduction to Special Issue on Marketing Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 32(1), 1-2.

Vitell, S.J.: 2003, ‘Consumer Ethics Research: Review, Synthesis and Suggestions for the Future’, Journal of Business Ethics 43(1), 33-47.

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