Fundamental issues in the ethics of marketing
Frameworks of analysis for marketing ethically
Value-oriented framework, analyzing ethical problems on the basis of the values which they infringe (e.g. honesty, autonomy, privacy, transparency). An example of such an approach is the AMAStatement of Ethics.
Stakeholder-oriented framework, analysing ethical problems on the basis of whom they affect (e.g. consumers, competitors, society as a whole).
Process-oriented framework, analysing ethical problems in terms of the categories used by marketing specialists (e.g. research, price, promotion, placement). None of these frameworks allows, by itself, a convenient and complete categorization of the great variety of issues in marketing ethics. Power-based analysis
Contrary to popular impressions, not all marketing is adversarial, and not all marketing is stacked in favour of the marketer. In marketing, the relationship between producer/consumer or buyer/seller can be adversarial or cooperative. For an example of cooperative marketing, see relationship marketing. If the marketing situation is adversarial, another dimension of difference emerges, describing the power balance between producer/consumer or buyer/seller. Power may be concentrated with the producer (caveat emptor), but factors such as over-supply or legislation can shift the power towards the consumer (caveat vendor). Identifying where the power in the relationship lies and whether the power balance is relevant at all are important to understanding the background to an ethical dilemma in marketing ethics. Is marketing inherently evil?
A popularist anti-marketing stance commonly discussed on the blogosphere and popular literature is that any kind of marketing is inherently evil. The position is based on the argument that marketing necessarily commits at least one of three wrongs:
Damaging personal autonomy. The victim of marketing in this case is the intended buyer whose right to self-determination is infringed.
Causing harm to competitors. Excessively fierce competition and unethical marketing tactics are especially associated with saturated markets.
Manipulating social values. The victim in this case is society as a whole, or the environment as well. The argument is that marketing promotes consumerism and waste. See also: affluenza, ethical consumerism, anti-consumerism.
Marketing has a major impact on our self-images, our ability to relate to one another, and it ruins any knowledge and action that might help to change that climate.
Marketing/Advertising creates artificiality and influences sexual attitudes. Specific issues in marketing ethics
Ethical danger points in market research include:
Invasion of privacy.
Stereotyping occurs because any analysis of real populations needs to make approximations and place individuals into groups. However if conducted irresponsibly, stereotyping can lead to a variety of ethically undesirable results. In the American Marketing Association Statement of Ethics, stereotyping is countered by the obligation to show respect ("acknowledge the basic human dignity of allstakeholders"). Market audience
Ethical danger points include:
Excluding potential customers from the market: selective marketing is used to discourage demand from undesirable market sectors or disenfranchise them altogether.
Targeting the vulnerable (e.g. children, the elderly).
Examples of unethical market exclusion or selective marketing are past industry attitudes to the gay, ethnic minority and obese ("plus-size") markets. Contrary to the popular myth that ethics and profits do not mix, the tapping of these markets has proved highly profitable. For example, 20% of US clothing sales are now plus-size. Another example is the selective marketing of health care, so that unprofitable sectors (i.e. the elderly) will not attempt to take...
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