Cultural Norms, Fair & Lovely, and Advertising

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(1) Generally speaking, selling a product that is not or only slightly effective, while pretending that it is efficient, is unethical. Particularly, in case a vendor is cheating on the customer and capitalizes on people’s misery. However, the question of good or bad ethics in this context depends very much on the setting and the cultural circumstances of producer and consumer as well as on the product itself. The present case dealing with HLL as well as CKL, the established vendors of skin lighting cream on the Indian market for many years, illustrates a situation in which the producer encounters the consumers´ strongly culturally positioned desire of fair skin, by offering a skin lightning product, which is from a dermatologist’s point of view considered to be ineffective (“reaches only the upper layer of the skin”, “does not affect melanin production”) or at least short-lived (“whitens facial hair and not the skin”). Nevertheless, Indian women keep on using these products for years, but will never notice lasting effects. So, while considering the consumers´ point of view we need to understand that they use the product to fulfil their desire for societal recognition, particularly by their peers. Therefore, it is less the use of the product but more the psychological effect that the product provides to the consumer. As a matter of fact, several sell levers cannot be considered as unethical. From a managing point of view the advertisement’s aim is to present the product at its best aspect, i.e. it is the marketer’s objective to stress the strengths of the product and gloss its weaknesses. (2) From a marketing point of view, there are three main strategies to market a product: demographically, geographically and psychographically. The psychographical aspect is based on the cultural norms and values of the target. From a marketing point of view it is basically not unethical to promote a product by using the cultural norms to satisfy the needs and desires of a...
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