In addition to problems cited above, some critics also argue that the money-making motive of some marketers has encouraged many to cross the line in terms of ethical business behavior. Ethics is concerned with what is right and what is wrong. Many people assume that only actions that violate laws are considered unethical. While it is true that illegal activity is also unethical, a business activity can be unethical even though no laws are violated. For instance, some consider it unethical for marketing companies to aggressively promote unhealthy foods to children though such promotional practices are generally not viewed as illegal.
Sometimes the line between what is considered ethical and unethical is difficult to distinguish since what is right and wrong differs depending on such factors as nationality, culture, and even industry. For example, many websites offer users access at no monetary charge to their content (e.g., articles, videos, audio clips, etc.) but do so only if users register and provide contact information including email addresses. Some of these sites then automatically add registrants to promotional email mailing lists. Some view the practice of automatic “opt-in” to a mailing list as being unethical since customers do not request it and are forced to take additional action to be removed from the list (“opt-out”). However, many marketers see no ethical issue with this practice and simply view adding registered users to an email list as part of the “cost” to customers for accessing material.
The call for marketers to become more responsible for their actions has led to the development of a marketing code of ethics by many companies and professional organizations. A company marketing code of ethics includes extensive coverage of how business is conducted by members of an organization. For instance, Google’s code of ethics, titled Code of Conduct and posted on their parent company’s website, lays out an extensive list of what is expected of their employees. Among the issues covered are:
Offering Gifts – “We want to avoid the possibility that the gift, entertainment, or other business courtesy could be perceived as a bribe, so it’s always best to provide such business courtesies infrequently and, when we do, to keep their value moderate.”
Receiving Gifts – “Google’s Non-Government Related Gifts & Client Entertainment Policy provides specific guidance on when it is appropriate for Googlers to accept gifts, entertainment, or any other business courtesy (including discounts or benefits that are not made available to all Googlers) from any of our competitors or business partners.”
Competitor Information – “If an opportunity arises to take advantage of a competitor’s or former employer’s confidential information, don’t do it.”
Friends and Relatives – “Don’t tell your significant other or family members anything confidential, and don’t solicit confidential information from them about their company.”
Marketers often join professional organizations for the purpose of associating with others who share similar interests. These organizations include industry associations, whose membership is mostly limited to those who work within a particular industry, and professional services associations, whose membership consists of those who share similar job responsibilities. Marketers joining these organizations often find that a code of ethics has been developed that is intended to be followed by all organization members. For example, the Canadian Marketing Association lays out rules for its membership, which includes marketers from many for-profits and not-for-profit organizations, in its Code of Ethics and Standards and Practices. The Code discusses such issues as:
Accuracy of Representation – “Marketers must not misrepresent a product, service, marketing program or make any other misleading representation, even if not directly related to the product or service, and must not mislead by statement or manner of demonstration or comparison.”
Support of Claims – “Marketers must be able to substantiate the basis for any performance, efficacy or length of life claim or comparison and must not imply a scientific, factual or statistical basis where none exists.”
Use the Word “Free” – “Products or services offered without cost or obligation on the part of the consumer or business may be described as “free”, or similar.”
Comparative Advertising – “Comparisons included in marketing communications must be factual, verifiable and not misleading. They must compare similar aspects of the products or services being assessed.”
Learn More About The Basics of Marketing
- What is Marketing?
- What is the Definition of Marketing?
- What Exactly Do Marketers Do?
- What is the History of Marketing?
- What is the Role of Marketing in an Organization?
- What are the Criticisms of Marketing?
- What are Some Ethical Issues in Marketing?
- What are the Characteristics of Modern Marketers?