Module 5: Ethics and Social Responsibility
Common Ethical Issues in Marketing
- Identify common ethical issues and their impact on individuals and organizations
Question: Is that ethical? Is it fair and honest to cherry-pick the customer references, selecting only the ones that are unlikely to share negative experiences about your product? To be sure, there's a range of customer feedback, and not all of it is positive. Are you expected to give a full picture of customers' experience—warts and all—so the restaurant chain will know exactly what it's buying?
Answer: In general, when prospective customers request customer references, they expect to receive favorable ones, and doing so is not a violation of their trust. It's a lot like a prospective employer's request for a job candidate's work references. When you're marketing yourself for a new job, you name the references who are most likely to report your talents and strengths—you don't include a crabby boss who never had good things to say about anyone.
The question becomes more challenging when the customer relationship is more complicated. In every case—even the simplest—it's a judgment call. Suppose your company compensates customers for providing references. A company might give some small thank-you gift to acknowledge that taking reference calls requires time, and that the company appreciates the client's support. Is that unethical? Possibly. On one hand, it's reasonable and desirable to express your appreciation to the customer, since part of maintaining the customer relationship is letting customers know that you value them and their time. On the other hand, there's a risk, especially if the gift is large, that the customer might be influenced or even induced to give your company or product a favorable review. There is a point where the compensation begins to distort the customer dialogue and relationship, and then it's clearly unethical—and if you're inducing a customer to alter their behavior in exchange for a gift, it's bribery.
Marketing professionals face regularly face questions of this kind. Where the organization appreciates a close partnership with a client, a thank-you gift may well be appropriate. The challenge is to choose one of the right size that expresses appreciation but doesn't compromise the integrity of the client or the marketing organization.
Below is a table that shows how marketing professionals responded to a survey on the most difficult ethical issues they face.
|Most Difficult Issue||Percent of Marketing Professionals Responding|
|Bribery||Gifts from outside vendors, payment of questionable commissions, "money under the table"||15%|
|Fairness||Unfairly placing company interests over family obligations, taking credit for the work of others, inducing customers to use services not needed, manipulation of others||14%|
|Honesty||Lying to customers to obtain orders, misrepresenting services and capabilities||12%|
|Price||Differential pricing, charging higher prices than firms with similar products while claiming superiority||12%|
|Product||Product safety, product and brand infringement, exaggerated performance claims, products that do not benefit consumers||11%|
|Personnel||Firing, hiring, employee evaluation||10%|
|Confidentiality||Temptations to use or obtain classified, secret, or competitive information||5%|
|Advertising||Crossing the line between exaggeration and misrepresentation, misleading customers||4%|
|Manipulation of Data||Falsifying figures or misusing statistics or information, distortion||4%|
- Lawrence "B. Chonko and Shelby D. Hunt, \"Ethics and Marketing Management: An Empirical Examination,\" Journal of Business Research, Vol. 13, 1985, pp. 339-359." ↵
- Lawrence "B. Chonko and Shelby D. Hunt, \"Ethics and Marketing Management: An Empirical Examination,\" Journal of Business Research, Vol. 13, 1985, pp. 339–359." ↵