Ethical considerations in marketing
Marketing ethics not only requires an attempt to make ethical decisions, but also to avoid the unintended consequences of marketing activities. This requires consideration of key stakeholders and their relevant interests (Fry and Polonsky, 2004). The essential framework of marketing ethics involves values, processes, and stakeholders. Ethical considerations should always be taken into account while marketing products to vulnerable demographic groups such as low-tar cigarettes to young adults, candies to children, and diet pills to those who are overweight.
However, the marketing of cigarettes, weight loss products, and candies to children has always been met with sharp criticism from media and other segments of the society. In short, such a selection of target market has come under fire mainly because such products target the vulnerable or disadvantaged groups with “harmful” products. Vulnerable groups are those who fail to understand the implications of a marketing campaign.
Marketing candy to children:
Marketers who solely focus children as their target of marketing are always most likely involve in unethical marketing practice. The reason is that children are too naïve and do not possess the ability to discern between what is good and bad for their health. This, in turn, makes children an easy prey to the marketers.
For example, advertisement campaigns of candy become unethical when they are directed specifically towards children without seeking parental consent. Such advertisements usually contain music, colors, voices, and images to lure them.
Children are unable to analyze the potential harms of eating candies thus are easily exploited. Nor are they able to realize the financial pressure it may cause to their parents.
Researchers found in 2007 that about fifty eight percent of products that children bought were either sweets or toys. Marketers of candy directly target children without considering the ethical effect it would have on them.
Advertisement of candy in any form claiming to be ethical must consider the basic power balance principle, this is to say, the product should not favor its marketer. In most cases, marketers try to create a situation that favors them despite their harmful products. Such a principle is known as caveat emptor in marketing.
As for ethical considerations, marketers of candy should carry out their advertisement campaigns in a responsible and socially restrained manner. They may view children as their target audience but the process of buying candy on the part of children must include parental consent.
Marketing cigarettes to young adults:
Similarly, target marketing of inherently injurious products such as low-tar cigarettes to young adults may lead marketers to overlook caution and restriction to vulnerable groups. For example, a recent Advertising Age Gallup poll suggests that 68% of a random sample of Americans believe that cigarette advertisements influence children and teenagers to smoke, while 66% think some cigarette ads are particularly designed to appeal to young people. Young adults are deceptively made to believe that consumption of low-tar cigarettes is not as injurious as other regular cigarettes. Though, low-tar cigarettes are equally dangerous and addictive. The recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal to limit tobacco advertising in the United States seems to reflect public concern (see, for example, FDA Consumer 1996; News Media and the Law 1995; Noah and McGinley (1996).
Like children, young adults are also vulnerable to such advertisements due to their diminished ability to realize the dangers of smoking. Marketers should promote their low-tar cigarettes but with caution placed on its packs as part of ethical consideration.
Marketing of Weight-loss pills:
The same marketing tactic is carried out to target the elderly and young people conscious of weight-loss strategies. Its marketers and health practitioners usually tend to adopt the marketing strategy of these pills being depicted as miraculous. Overweight people are duped into using the weight-loss pills with the least mention of its negative effects. These pills are generally addictive in nature and manipulate the consumer to use the product so often. The users of such pills should be given proper guidelines about the product and instructed not to abuse (usually as result of overuse) or misuse it.
The commercials of these pill use different morphing and animation techniques to give an impression that an overweight person may rapidly lose weight. Their marketing strategies usually win over the susceptible consumers such as elderly and market illiterates.
The advertising practices of the weight-loss industry lay bare the limitations of the law in shielding the public and consumers. As long as unethical practices are successful, there will always be companies who will make the most of them.
Fry, M. and M.J. Polonsky. 2004. “Examining the Unintended Consequences of Marketing,” Journal of Business Research, Vol. 57, 1303-1306.
FDA Consumer (1996). "Young People Talk with FDA Commissioner about Smoking." 30