The purpose of this paper is to analyze the ethics of non-traditional marketing by advertisers. Multiple aspects of the specific type of advertising will be explained and backed up with research, examined through the Potter Box, compared with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for legal and ethical marketing, and specific examples of invasive and ethically questionable marketing. A comparison will be done to explain the difference between traditional and nontraditional marketing. Moreover, the ethical perspectives of Immanuel Kant’s “categorical imperative” and Michel Foucault’s philosophy on power will help further the analysis of the ethics of nontraditional marketing. Following these guidelines, this paper will, hopefully, explain the ethicalities of the specified marketing behavior by advertising companies to unsuspecting consumers.
Guerrilla On the Loose
Postmodernism and the ever-changing popular culture have shaped a new era of advertising. People are becoming less and less susceptible to traditional advertisements such as commercials, branding, billboards, and newspaper or magazine ads. For these reasons and the recession, advertising firms searched for newer and cheaper ways to advertise to the public. However, this non-traditional way of advertising brings about questions of ethics due to the invasiveness and harm it can cause.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the ethics of non-traditional marketing by advertisers. This will be achieved through defining each aspect of non-traditional marketing, looking at the topic through the Potter Box, comparing it with official guidelines, analyzing through Immanuel Kant’s and Michel Foucault’s perspectives, and using examples of questionable non-traditional marketing strategies.
The non-traditional marketing this paper will look at is called guerrilla marketing. According to David Hickman (2007), guerrilla marketing “was first defined as ‘an unconventional way of performing promotional activities on a very low budget’” but now “is a more loosely defined term, and is more of a general description, for an entire category of many differing types of non-traditional marketing methods” (p. 1). The referred category includes astroturfing, stealth (undercover) and viral marketing, and Grassroots. University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication defined astroturfing best, in that it is an act that “denotes political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but are disguised as spontaneous, popular ‘grassroots’ behavior” (p. 1). Grassroots refers to a marketing strategy that revolves around word-of-mouth, telemarketing phone calls/messages, public speeches, etc. Stealth marketing is, in essence, undercover marketing. Consumers who remain unaware that they are being marketed to are the goal of this style of marketing. According to Wilson (2005), an E-Commerce Consultant, viral marketing, on the other hand, “describes any strategy that encourages [consumers] to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence” (p. 1). Examples of viral marketing are e-mailing (usually forwarding), social networking, and blogging. Each style of marketing requires minimum cost and effort (especially in the viral marketing case), meaning they fall into the guerrilla category perfectly.
Attitudes of consumers toward a product mean everything to the advertiser. However, consumers are becoming increasingly irritated with the amount of advertisements displayed to them on a daily basis, prompting more companies to use the guerrilla marketing strategy, where the intentions are to keep the consumer unaware that they are being marketed to. In layman’s terms, a guerrilla advertisement “’sticks’ by not appearing to be an ad, in effect slipping under the consumers’ well-tuned ad radar” (Christians, 2009, p. 133). This...