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N. CraigSmith& Elizabeth Cooper-Martin
Ethics and Target Marketing: of Product Harm and The Role Consumer Vulnerability Target marketing might be the epitome of the marketing concept. However, in certain instances it has been criticized as unethical. The authors identify explanations for the ethical concern and controversy that can arise over targeting. An empirical study confirms public disquiet over consumer vulnerability and product harmfulness, identifies which targeting strategies are evaluated as less ethical, and highlights the likelihood of consumer boycotts and other disapproving behaviors. Evidence of ethical concern arises when both "sin" and "non-sin" products are involved, and it increases for consumers perceived to be more vulnerable. The authors discuss implications for marketing managers, researchers, and public policy.
It is not surprisingto find that Tedlow's (1990) historical account of marketingin America is a history of market segmentation.Marketsegmentation,with its concomitant target marketing (targeting), is one of the most important concepts in marketing. The essence of market segmentation-recognizing the differences among customers and choosing to target a segment of them with similar needshas reached its zenith in the late 20th century. Many consumer markets have fragmented, increasing the need for aided by inforsharplyfocused targetmarketing.Marketers, mation technology, have respondedwith strategiesaimed at smaller and hence more elusive groups of consumers, even to the point of programsdirectedat the individualconsumer. The sophisticationof targetmarketingand recognitionof its importance as a means of achieving efficiency and effectiveness have never been greater.But despite its role in identifying and serving customer needs, more focused target marketinghas been accompaniedby increasedcriticism. In extensive media attentionhas been devoted to the particular, of adult consumer segments viewed as "vulneratargeting which is the focal ble," with productsconsidered "harmful," issue addressed here. This criticism of targeting has included products such as lottery tickets, fast food, weightloss products, contraceptives,rental furnitureand electrical equipment, food supplements, and financial services, such as auto insurance and credit cards.l Most extensive, howand 1SeeClotfelter Cook 1989;Freedman 1990, 1993;Hwang 1994;Jacobs1992;Keats1994;NYDCA1992;Smith1995. School of Professor Marketing, N.Craig Smith Associate is Georgetown of is President, Elizabeth Business, Cooper-Martin University. Georgetown Sandra Burke, G. J. Jill thank R.Andreasen, Alan Inc. CM, Theauthors AlexanDonald Robin, P. R. Debra Donald Lichtenstein, J. Ringold, Klein, for reviewers and Robert Thomas, threeanonymous J. derSimonson, on drafts thisarticle. of comments earlier by Funding theGeorgehelpful and Relations by the for...