Ethics in Marketing
There are a number of ethical issues in marketing today. These range from the messages that advertisers send -- especially to children -- to the ethics of marketing research. Marketers must be aware of all of these different issues, and be guided by high standards of ethics in order to fulfill their objectives without violating prevailing ethical codes.
Akaah and Riordan (1989) outline the issues of ethics in marketing research. They point out that there are a number of issues in marketing research, including the preservation of anonymity, the implication of bias and other such issues. There is no external set of standards to which marketers can follow, so in general each organization must set its own standards. The authors note that there are three factors that influence how organization's approach the issue of marketing research ethics -- the extent of ethical problems within the organization in general, top management attitudes about ethics and the role in the organization of the market research department.
A code of ethics in the company should be established at the corporate level, and the research department should follow this code, while developing its own standards and guidelines. For example, minors should not be research subjects. Protocols should be followed with respect to informed consent. In addition, there needs to be procedures in place with respect to protecting the privacy of individuals in the research. If the company is to gather personal information, it needs to ensure that information is protected. Another issue is with respect to the payment of research subjects, which can create bias and perverse incentives. Marketing researchers must be aware of these issues and work to mitigate any potential negative outcomes from the work that they do.
One of the major ethical issues in marketing today is with respect to marketing to children. Children do not have fully developed minds and are therefore subject to marketing pitches to a greater degree than adults. This is not always an ethical issue, but when the product is not good for children -- be it cigarettes or fast food -- it creates an ethical dilemma for the marketer charged with reaching that market. Shrubsole (2012) notes that company's efforts to reach children have become more sophisticated and therefore harder to govern. The problem has become so bad that it is a political issue, and even the United Nations is getting involved, having now issue a set of business principles and children's rights that serve as a framework for marketing ethics with respect to selling to children.
Horovitz, (2011) notes that as restrictions are developed with respect to marketing to children, such a blending games and advertising content, in order to suck children into the marketing. This is tricky enough with adults, but children stand very little chance of resisting, and the result is usually the economic exploitation of the children for the gain on the company that is doing the selling.
Another issue is with dishonesty in marketing. This has always been a major problem for advertisers since the snake oil salesmen of yesterday. Smart Consulting Group (2009) note that Pfizer was charged with a $2 billion fine for violating rules regarding drug sales. This is a high price to pay for dishonesty in marketing, but it illustrates that the problem exists even in the largest of companies. There is a duty of care that marketers have to their audience to accurately reflect the attributes and features of the product. When they fail to do so -- by making false claims, for example -- the marketer is violating that duty of care.
The Pfizer case also illustrates the impact that regulations have on deception in marketing. The drug industry is among the most heavily regulated with respect to dishonesty, which helps to explain the size of that fine, but there is a legal environment that guides companies to more ethical and more honest behavior in advertising. Where such rules exist, they…