The question of whether or not marketing is completely unethical is the question most critics of marketing seem to be focusing their attention on. Ethics provide the basis for deciding whether a particular action is morally good or morally bad (Britt 553). But, each individual develops different opinions, moral standards, and values. So, marketers will deal with similar issues differently because there is no "correct" way to handle any given issue. Marketers face various types of ethical issues in their everyday marketing activities. Such marketing activities that require marketing managers to utilize their moral values ethically are advertising, packaging and labeling, and global marketing.
"Advertising is the most criticized of all micro-marketing activities (McCarthy 643)." What is considered as unfair or deceptive advertising is very difficult to pinpoint, because times have changed and continue to change on a day to day basis. What one person may consider unfair or deceptive may not be unfair or deceptive to another person. There are no clear cut guidelines for marketing manager's to go by, so they must utilize their own judgement based on their own moral standards. But, in the United States their is an administrative agency that has the power to control unfair or deceptive business practices. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was created in 1914 to prevent "unfair methods of competition in commerce (commercial trade) and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce (Miller 590)". The FTC issues guidelines that define unfair practices and in some instances the FTC will investigate widespread complaints to seek settlement of the complaint. The FTC has also set forth specific rules to govern certain advertising practices such as bait-and-switch advertising. Bait-and-switch advertising occurs when a seller advertises a product at a very low price to lure in consumers, but when customers come in to purchase the product; the seller either doesn't have the product available or the product is of very low quality and the seller then encourages the customer to purchase a more expensive substitute. The Federal Trade Commission also enforces laws that govern packaging and labeling.
In the past, there had been much criticism concerning packaging and labeling, so much that in 1966 the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act was passed. The Act requires that labels must be accurate and easily understood by consumers. The Act also governs packaging descriptions and savings information that is disclosed on labels (Miller 529). Marketers face some morally difficult situation in which they must make ethical decisions. Such a situation could be:
The marketer's Research and Development department has modernized one of the companies products. The product isn't really "new and improved", but the marketer knows that putting that slogan on the package and advertising it would increase sale.
What should the marketer do? This is one type of situation that many marketers may face in their careers. If the marketer should decide in favor of such a decision his or her behavior would be considered immoral. But, if he or she doesn't decide in favor of the act then he she may be considered an inefficient manager.
Marketing managers also face ethical dilemmas about whether their products help or hurt consumers in less developed nations. The marketer must evaluate the benefit and the risks of serving such nations, then he or she must weigh those benefits against the risks by using his or her on judgement based on what they feel is morally right or wrong. The marketer must also take in consideration the literacy level in such less-developed nations. Marketing ethics are moral standards that guide marketing decisions and actions (McCarthy, 26). Today's companies must form clear policies to guide marketers in their marketing decisions so they can be socially responsible individuals. The decisions that the marketer makes has a big influence on how others see the company. The employees must choose between what is in the best interest of themselves, the company, or that of society as a whole.
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