ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

I NTRODUCTION
Marketing has been criticized for harming the interest of consumers, society and the environment in the application of the marketing mix (product, promotion, pricing and place) (Jobber, 2010) and promoting societal moral decay, endorsing materialism and causing environmental degradation (Miller, 2005). Marketing ethics is concerned with the moral principles and values which guide marketing decisions and activities in an ethical manner (Jobber, 2010).

The following essay will be based on four articles by Miller (2009), Parsons (2009), Carrigan and Attalla (2002), and Doonar (2005). This essay provides an overview of the four articles and the outline of the key themes identified within them, and subsequently provides a critical review of the identified themes.

O VERVIEW

OF

A RTICLES

Miller (2009) discussed the issues involved in sustainable marketing. Miller reported the need for sustainable marketing, as organisations have been blamed for the depletion of scarce natural resources (forest, land, fish) and environmental degradation (harmful pollutants and waste) arising from marketing activities and products in satisfying consumers‟ need, which could subsequently cause potential difficulty in acquiring necessities to sustain human life in the future. A number of arguments against sustainability were also reviewed, for example, that technological advances will make the need for sustainable development unnecessary. Miller considered organisations‟ and individuals‟ challenges of behaving responsibly, involving the trade-off between long-term social benefit and in choosing short-term gains. Miller discussed the role of regulation legislation in coercing organisations to behave responsibly such as, the imposition of environmental taxes and congestion charges. Miller stated, many environmentally responsible organisations are experiencing positive impacts on profits, and companies are increasingly incorporating profit-centred activities with environmentally friendly practices. Miller reported that consumers are increasingly aware of sustainability issues and are also reported to boycott unethical products. Conversely, there is evidence that consumers concern for the environment had not translated to purchase 1

ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

behaviour, and that consumers are sceptical, indifferent and confused of green marketing. Miller acknowledged that the success of sustainable marketing on the planet is still not clear, but recognizes the future potential of sustainability could be significant.

Parsons (2009) discussed issues with the definition and scope of marketing ethics, and issues in establishing practical ethical guidelines for marketing. Universal application of a set of ethical marketing codes is complicated by the subjectivity and differences involved in ethical and moral standards across different institutional environments and cultures, and that the extensiveness and dramatic developments in marketing ethics research have caused complexity in defining the scope of marketing ethics. Parsons reviewed the normative and positive roles of marketing ethics. The normative role guides what marketing organisations ought to do or what kinds of marketing systems a society ought to have. The positive role was illustrated by a framework developed by Hunt and Vitell (1986) which explores the standpoints decision-makers use in their ethical evaluations. Parsons examined the marketing criticisms regarding marketing research, advertisement and brand management. Parson also questioned the prevailing issue regarding the extent to which marketers are responsible for the impact of their products (such as unhealthy foods, cigarettes and alcohol) on the society.

Doonar (2005) examined how brands are responding to the trend for ethical products as consumers‟ awareness of ethical consumerism increases. Doonar believed that ethical consumerism is a growing global trend and is affecting how people shop. The author discussed the implications of companies becoming ethical and uses examples of various companies such as the Body Shop and Ben and Jerry‟s to illustrate the positive impact on firm‟s profitability and image by being ethical and responsible. The author was concerned with the lack of uniformity and standards in promoting ethical activities, and believed that companies should be communicating and promoting their ethical and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to consumers. Doonar then reviewed how companies can develop their marketing strategies for ethical products to consumers, for example, through ethical labelling and clear communication.

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ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

The study by Carrigan and Attalla (2002) aims to investigate the extent to which consumers‟ concern of marketing ethics influence their purchase behaviour. Carrigan and Attalla were concerned with the inconsistencies and inadequacy of evidence in past researches to support that ethical concern is driven by the belief that consumers will be attracted to socially responsible firms. Carrigan and Attalla also examined if the link between CSR and consumer purchase behaviour has develop as projected by Dragon International in 1991. The authors conducted two focus groups involving five university educated participants aged between 18 and 25 years. Their subsequent findings disproved the link between CSR and consumer purchase behaviour. An attitude-behaviour gap between intention and actual ethical punishing behaviour of purchasing and boycotting ethical and unethical companies was identified. Also, companies with good environment or CSR record had no influence on consumers purchase decision, and scepticism surrounding corporate ethical integrity appears to influence consumer ethical behaviour. Consumers also lack the information to allow them to make better ethical judgements. Consumers who act on ethical intentions were reported to remain a minority, and are likely to be selectively ethical. Carrigan and Attalla developed a consumer matrix which segments ethical consumers based on their attitudes to ethical purchasing. The matrix was proposed to facilitate firms to target ethical issues to consumers in order to encourage consumers to behave more ethically.

C RITICAL R EVIEW
Evaluation of the papers shows differences in contexts. Miller and Parsons were concerned with marketing ethics as a practice within marketing activity and its impact on the wider society. Parsons discussed the roles of marketing ethics in offering ethical guidelines for marketing practices and was concerned with ethics as a practice within marketing. Miller emphasised the need for environmental conservation for future social benefit. Carrigan and Attalla were concerned with consumers‟ ethical attitude-behaviour gap and how marketers can engage consumers in favouring ethical behaviour. Doonar were concerned with the lack of standards in promoting ethical behaviour of firms to appeal in the trend of ethical consumerism. Doonar‟s emphasis of using ethics as a tool to attract consumers to enhance profitability and organisations‟ image questions the organisations‟ ethical and moral stance, because I believe ethics should be a practice and a culture in guiding a firm‟s behaviour for social good, instead of as a device to appeal to consumers for organisational gains. However 3

ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

overall, they all emphasised the need for ethical marketing. I have identified two broad themes within the literatures (Carrigan and Attalla, 2002; Doonaar, 2005; Miller, 2009; Parsons, 2009); theme one is concerned with marketing criticisms and responsibility, and theme two, validity of ethical and sustainable marketing.

Marketing Criticisms and Responsibility Marketing has been blamed for the effects of their products and activities to the society, such as advertising to vulnerable groups, and the impact of potentially harmful products, such as fast foods. Regulation and legislation have contributed to moving and coercing organisations towards a socially and environmentally responsible marketing behaviour such as, the imposition of environmental taxes and congestion charges (Miller, 2009; Carrigan and Attalla, 2002). Other criticisms include marketing‟s contribution towards the materialistic and wasteful side of the society, which subsequently cause depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation (Miller, 2009; Carrigan and Attalla, 2002). However there is still ambiguity over the extent to which marketers may be held responsible (Parsons, 2009; Carrigan and Attalla, 2002). This section will evaluate some of the responsibility issues and criticism of marketing.

Carrigan and Attalla reported that consumers are not willing to trade price, quality and value over ethical criteria of a product. I believe that consumers‟ indifference and lack of appropriate purchase behaviour towards ethical product offerings can be demotivating for marketers and can encourage them to abandon moral and ethical principles. Marketing is defined by AMA (2008) as an “activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers... and society at large”. Marketing as an exchange process between buyers and sellers cannot be acknowledged if consumers do not value the offering of ethical firms and unwilling or unable to play their role in the dyadic process of exchange. Consumers‟ lack of willingness to contribute to the exchange process causes an obstruction in the offering of ethical products. Hence, I believe that marketers are not entirely responsible for behaving unethically.

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ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

In my opinion, marketers are not solely responsible for the effects of their products and activities, for example, Parsons mentioned the criticisms of advertising on vulnerable groups such as children. On average, children in the UK watch more than two and a half hour of television and spend fifty minutes on the internet per day (Sellgren, 2011) and are inevitably exposed to various types of advertising. I do not believe that marketers are responsible for the advertisements children are exposed to from the types of media access they have at home. Parents and the society as a whole should be responsible in nurturing knowledgeable and invulnerable generation.

Validity of Ethical and Sustainable Marketing Miller refers sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without depleting resources or harming natural cycles for future generations. The concept of sustainability runs counter to the tenants of marketing and maybe highly difficult to put into practice, it involves the challenges of balancing conservation and consumption, in particular, the trade-off between long-term social benefit and in choosing short-term gains (Miller, 2009). There is a belief that being ethical and responsible will have positive impact on firm‟s profitability and image (Carrigan and Attalla, 2002; Doonar, 2005; Miller, 2009). However, Miller reported that the impact of sustainability on the planet is still unclear, although ignoring sustainability can potentially be damaging to the environment and the society in the long-run. Carrigan and Attalla identified that ethical consumers will not necessarily buy the products of ethical firms or boycott unethical firms, and suggested that marketers should engage consumers to behave more ethically. There were also arguments against sustainability, suggesting that the threat to the environment is exaggerated and that technological advances in the production and disposal of products will make the need for sustainable development unnecessary (Peattie, 2006; cited in Miller. 2009). Overall, there seems to be no consensus between all four papers, hence the following will evaluate the validity of ethical and sustainable marketing.

The term sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without depleting resources... for future generation” [italics added] is considered exaggerated; I do not believe environmental conservation and maintaining or restoring resources for the future are achievable without depleting resources while pursuing economic growth. Firstly, I believe that sustainability can 5

ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

only be achieved through rapid adaptation and sustained, harmonious commitment of the society to conserve, however, this was not supported by the evidence regarding consumers‟ lack of ethical behaviour towards sustainability (Miller, 2009; Carrigan and Attalla, 2002). Secondly, the term sustainability implies immediacy between current consumption and environmental conservation and protection. The environmental challenge that accompanies economic development cannot be eliminated, because restoration and conservation cannot be achieved immediately, however I believe the pace of environmental degradation and depletion of resources can be reduced by technological developments in production and disposal methods, such as the development of Quorn (mock meat mycoprotein food from fungus), hybrid cars, renewable energy and recyclable or non-biodegradable packaging.

However, I believe the idea of sustainability is still necessary, because of the pace differences between consumption and population growth and the pace of research and development for ethical alternatives of marketing practices. Hence, reusing and recycling should be practiced whenever possible, because this preserves the environment in the short-term (Hill, 2006).

C ONCLUSION
Marketing activities have impacts on the society and the environment. Hence it should behave responsibly within the best interest of those who are and will be affected by its activities. Marketing as an exchange process requires the cooperation of consumers to behave ethically and to value marketers‟ ethical offering. Thus, the ethical consumer matrix by Carrigan and Attalla merit the application to encourage consumers towards a more desirable ethical behaviour. In conclusion, marketing ethics and sustainability are important, despite the challenges and ambiguity within its terms and applications. Hence, cooperation of stakeholders is important to support the ethical advances of marketing practices, such as, the role of regulation legislation in moving organisations towards ethical and sustainable behaviour.

By Atiqah Ismail, BSc Marketing, Newcastle University 6

ATIQAH ISMAIL

CRITICAL REVIEW ON MARKETING ETHICS

2011

R EFERENCES
American Marketing Association, (2008). The American Marketing Association Releases New Definition for Marketing. [Online] Available at: http://www.marketingpower.com/AboutAMA/Documents/American%20Marketing%20Asso ciation%20Releases%20New%20Definition%20for%20Marketing.pdf [Accessed: 18.11.2011]. Carrigan, M. and Attalla, A., (2002). „The Myth of the Ethical Consumer: Do Ethics Matter in Purchasing Behaviour?‟. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 18(7), pp. 560-577. Doonar, J., (2005). „A Question of Ethics‟. Brand Strategy, 193, Jun 2005, pp. 24-27. Hill, B., (2006). Against Sustainability. [Online] Available at: http://www.lanecc.edu/sustainability/documents/Hill.pdf [Accessed: 01.12.2011] Jobber, D., (2010). Principles and Practice of Marketing. 6th ed. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education. Miller, C., (2009). „Sustainable Marketing and the Green Consumer‟. In: Parsons, E. and Maclaran, P., Contemporary Issues in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. Parsons, E., (2009). „Ethical Debates in Marketing‟. In: Parsons, E. and Maclaran, P., Contemporary Issues in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour. Oxford: ButterworthHeinemann. Sellgren, K., (2011). Children's Screen Habits Revealed. BBC, [Online] 1 February. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12334962 [Accessed: 27.11.2011].

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