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The Ethics of Marketing

Good Corporate Conduct

ABSTRACT. Companies that contribute to charitable organizations rightly hope that their philanthropic work will also be good for the bottom line.
Marketers of good corporate conduct must be especially careful, however, to market such conduct in
a morally acceptable fashion. Although marketers
typically engage in mild deception or take artistic
license when marketing goods and services, these sorts
of practices are far more morally troublesome when
used to market good corporate conduct. I argue that
although mild deception is not substantially worrisome with respect to the marketing of most goods
and services, it is a far greater moral blunder to use
such methods in the marketing of good corporate
character. These erode trust and demonstrate a lack
of adequate respect for the moral good. In light of
these concerns, I suggest that such practices must be
re-examined when applied to the marketing of corporate character and good conduct. Finally, I develop
a revised set of ethical guidelines that are needed in
order to address the problems peculiar to the marketing of morally praiseworthy behavior.
KEY WORDS: advertising ethics, business ethics,
corporate character, corporate philanthropy, marketing

Companies that contribute to charitable organizations rightly hope that these contributions will
not go unnoticed by consumers, investors, and
members of local communities. Whether it is a
line of acknowledgement in a brochure for Earth
Mary Lyn Stoll is presently an Associate Professor of
Philosophy at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Her research focuses upon ethical theory and applied
ethics. Her work examines the nature of corporate moral
agency and the potential for development of corporate

Mary Lyn Stoll

Day or a national advertising campaign, companies want consumers to know about the good
that they do in the hopes that their good deeds
might also be good for the bottom line.
In one sense, this is utterly unproblematic.
Good companies are rewarded for good deeds
and this in turn encourages other companies to
follow suit in giving back to the community.
Companies that publicly proclaim their desire to
be a positive force in the community will also
be more likely to face continued public scrutiny,
and this will in turn provide a further incentive
to avoid wrongdoing. In another sense, however,
advertising concerning corporate donations can
be morally problematic. When a company spends
far more on advertising their good deeds than it
spends on the deeds themselves, it is questionable whether or not such actions are truly
morally praiseworthy and whether or not this
sort of advertising is unacceptably misleading.
Although advertising campaigns are generally less
than forthright concerning all of the relevant
facts, mild deception in marketing corporate
character is a much more serious offense. When
advertising campaigns concerning corporate
philanthropy are selectively advanced as a means
of reacting to negative public perceptions
resulting from prior misdeeds, this too raises
serious ethical concerns. At the same time,
however, the benefits of positive publicity for
good deeds must not be undercut as an incentive for companies to engage in morally acceptable behavior. A set of guidelines for dealing with
the marketing of good corporate conduct is
needed in order to deal with these sorts of issues.
Thus, standard views of marketing ethics must be
adjusted to deal with the moral peculiarities of
marketing good deeds. In this paper, I will begin

Journal of Business Ethics 41: 121129, 2002.

2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


Mary Lyn Stoll

with standard views of marketing ethics and then

discuss how such accounts must be revised in
order to deal with the peculiarities of marketing
corporate good conduct. I will then use two
cases studies, one of unacceptable marketing of
corporate conduct and one of very careful marketing of good corporate conduct, to suggest
more adequate guidelines towards which business
persons in marketing may turn when formulating
advertising campaigns concerning good corporate conduct.

I. Standard views of marketing ethics

Since the primary justification for the market is
that it is effective in meeting consumers desires
for goods and services, it follows that marketing
tactics ought not undermine the effective performance of this function. To be effective in
meeting consumer needs, however, the market
must be one in which exchange is truly voluntary so that consumers will be able to make
informed decisions in procuring the goods and
services they actually want. According to David
Holley, marketing ethics includes at least three
major tenets: (1) Both the buyer and seller must
be adequately informed concerning what is purchased and what is paid for that purchase. (2)
Neither buyer nor seller is compelled through
coercion, severely restricted alternatives, or other
relevant constraints on the ability to choose. And
(3) Both buyer and seller are capable of making
a rational decision concerning the transaction
(Holley, 1987). Without these sorts of constraints
in place, buyers and sellers will not be able to
trust one another. Without such trust the parties
involved will find the business transaction much
more cumbersome and time consuming than it
would be if each party adhered to such minimal
ethical guidelines. Apart from the expected utility
for both consumers and businesses that results
from such a system, one might also hope that
both parties would adhere to these guidelines out
of a respect for one of the most basic of moral
obligations: a respect for others ability to make
informed autonomous decisions for themselves.
Whether one ultimately favors a Utilitarian,
Kantian, Contractarian, or virtue based ethic,

there are certainly good moral reasons on any

one of these accounts to be honest, non-coercive,
and non-deceptive in business transactions.
The extent to which market practices actually
meet these criteria is still a matter of intense
debate. John Kenneth Galbraith, for instance, has
argued that business does not simply satisfy
consumer desires and needs (Galbraith, 1985).
Galbraith claims that advertisers coerce us by
aiding in the creation of consumer desires that
may be in conflict with the greater good.
Advertisers may also induce desires that are
contrary to a more full and satisfying life that
individuals would be more likely pursue if not
for a constant barrage of advertisements inducing
slavish devotion to procuring frivolous goods and
services. This poses moral problems in creating
a society in which individual virtue is fostered
above base materialism.
Others, such as Theodore Levitt, would argue
that the virtues of non-deception, non-coercion,
and honesty in advertising ought to be more
circumscribed. These theorists would defend
practices of puffery in which sellers make exaggerated or fanciful claims with respect to a
product. Although such practices are clearly more
a matter of persuasive tactics than of simply providing customers with the information necessary
to making well reasoned decisions, one might
argue that such mild deception is morally acceptable and may even serve a social good. In this
regard, Levitt, has argued that this sort of
advertising can help to elevate the mundane
aspects of everyday existence with imaginative
promise serving a function more akin to art than
huckstering (Levitt, 1970). Robert Arrington has
further argued that so long as the pursuit of
desires fostered or even created by business is
consciously affirmed by the individual, autonomy
and rationality are not compromised (Arrington,
Richard Lippke objects to this line of reasoning arguing that the net affect of mass-advertising does in fact induce beliefs, desires, and
attitudes that encourage the suppression of
rational decision making and thereby the suppression of autonomous individuals who define
themselves through these sorts of decisions.
Lippke maintains that the frequency with which

The Ethics of Marketing Good Corporate Conduct

individuals are subjected to such ads and the
repetitive nature of the ads are akin to oppression by a very loud and persistent bully who
simply will not give one the time or space to
think for oneself. Targeting the vulnerable,
legitimizing emotional appeals, oversimplifying
claims, relying upon superficiality, and encouraging shoddy standards for proof of claims are
all common practices in mass advertising that
serve to subvert free, rational, and autonomous
decision-making. This barrage of advertising
teaches individuals that highly selective representation of information relevant to decisionmaking and the overstatement of possible benefits
are legitimate means of affecting the decisionmaking practices of others. Again, these practices
are antithetical to encouraging rational self-determination (Lippke, 1989). Lippke sums up his
objections to standard marketing practices as
(These messages) tell individuals . . . that they
cannot believe or trust what others say, that
anything (or nothing!) can be proved, that evidence
contrary to ones claims may be ignored, and that
words can mean whatever anyone wants them to
mean. They tell persons that success in communication is a matter of persuading others no matter
how it is done. Such attitudes about thought and
communication starkly oppose the habits and attitudes constitutive of critical competence: clarity,
rigor, precision, patience, honesty, effort, etc.
(Lippke, 1989, p. 45).

Lippke further objects to standard mass marketing practices in so far as such practices allow
advertisers to define the ideal of the good life
by manipulating our desires and by exploiting our
insecurities rather than allowing individuals the
mental space to think critically for themselves
about what is constitutive of the good life.
According to Lippke, at best the mass onslaught
of advertising to which we are subjected distracts
us from the things that truly matter to us such
as developing friendships or dealing with personal
flaws and insecurities in a clearheaded way. At
worst, mass advertising exploits our insecurities
in order to increase sales and deprives us collectively of critical thinking tools needed to make
free and well-reasoned decisions. Thus, Lippke


argues for even greater restraint in marketing

practices in order to assure that critical reasoning
skills are fostered and that notions of what constitutes the good life are well reasoned rather than
merely market manipulated (Lippke, 1989).1

II. Moral problems peculiar to the

II. marketing of corporate good conduct
Clearly there is much debate concerning the
degree to which standard advertising practices in
either particular cases or en masse are morally
problematic. One might reasonably argue that a
certain amount of deception in advertising is
relatively harmless so long as consumers bear in
mind the extent to which our culture presupposes the principle of caveat emptor and the extent
to which advertisers may take creative license in
depicting a symbolic imagery with which they
hope a product will be associated.2 One might
also reasonably argue that advertising, especially
in mass quantities and constant doses, does in fact
threaten rational autonomy and ought to be
reformed so as to truly respect individuals by
fostering practices of non-coercion, and nondeception as well as critical reasoning skills. But
when it comes to marketing good corporate
conduct as morally praiseworthy, the stakes are
raised both for those who hope to protect consumers from morally unacceptable business practices and for businesses that hope good corporate
conduct will also be good for the bottom line.
Here, I will argue that the marketing of good
corporate conduct represents a very special case
of advertising in which it is especially important
that such marketing is carried out in a responsible fashion.
In an increasingly global economy with a
relatively weak system of international law,
consumers need to know that they can depend
upon the media to serve as a watchdog over companies that engage in unacceptable behavior.
Even if government cannot punish the errant
company, surely public moral outrage will often
prove just as sure a punishment as any regulatory fine.3 If companies can manage the dispersal of information relevant to moral judgments
of corporate behavior through the marketing of


Mary Lyn Stoll

isolated instances of good corporate conduct even

in cases where immoral conduct is the rule rather
than the exception, consumers lose a vital tool
in making well reasoned decisions about the
products and practices they choose to support. If,
on the other hand, a company chooses to go
above and beyond the call of duty with respect
to meeting moral obligations to its stakeholders,
even when this may be more costly, it needs to
rely upon the marketing of good corporate
conduct to make up for such losses and to explain
the moral concerns that may be driving its prices
slightly higher. In order to better discern what
the standards for marketing good corporate
conduct should be, I will first examine a case in
which the marketing of good corporate conduct
is done a fashion that is morally problematic and
then later discuss another case of appropriate
advertising of good corporate character. These
examples will serve as illustrations of broader
points concerning the sorts of guidelines that
marketers ought to consider when marketing
good corporate conduct.
Phillip Morris troubles with unethical, and
often illegal, behavior are well known. The
company has been accused and convicted repeatedly of having knowingly deceived customers
concerning the health risks of smoking and of
having targeted children who lack adequate skills
to make well-reasoned decisions concerning the
purchase of the product. Phillip Morris and
others in the tobacco industry are all faced with
a peculiar marketing problem in that their
product is addictive. This is one clear case in
which business can actually create and sustain a
desire within the consumer to continue to
purchase a product simply because the product
itself has chemically addictive properties.
Although tobacco companies must rely upon
other factors to induce the initial purchase of
tobacco products, once the consumer has begun
to purchase the industrys products, he or she will
be unlikely to stop. This is part of the reason why
the public has generally found the marketing of
cigarettes to children to be especially repugnant.
Since use of the product inherently introduces
elements of coercion after its initial use due to
its chemically addictive properties, it is especially
pernicious to target those who can not yet make

well reasoned autonomous decisions with respect

to this initial purchase.
To offset much of the negative publicity associated with Phillip Morris own involvement in
these sorts of deceptive and manipulative practices, Phillip Morris has launched a campaign
know as People. The campaign is meant to
highlight many of the positive things that Phillip
Morris has achieved through its philanthropic
donations to charitable organizations. These ads
included print ads in prominent magazines publicizing money that Miller, a Phillip Morris
Company, has set aside for scholarships and job
training for technical college students. Other ads
highlight the money that Phillip Morris has given
to the Meals on Wheels program for homebound
persons who need help in getting adequate nourishment and the companys Supplier Diversity
Program meant to ensure increased partnerships
with minority owned businesses. While all of
these are noble and worthwhile philanthropic
endeavors, Adbusters has recently criticized Phillip
Morris for spending one hundred eight million
dollars on advertising these purported good deeds
and only sixty million dollars on corporate donations to these charitable organizations (Adbusters,
2001). When a company spends far more on
advertising its good deeds, then on facilitating
good deeds, it is questionable whether or not
the actions are truly morally praiseworthy and
whether or not this sort of advertising is unacceptably misleading. The issue is further complicated by the fact that this ad campaign focusing
upon areas of corporate excellence in one area,
charitable giving, has been developed partly
as a response to public censure over corporate
misdeeds in another area, namely misinforming
consumers concerning health risks and marketing
an addictive product to children.
One might respond by insisting that there is
nothing wrong with letting consumers know all
of the relevant information concerning their
moral judgments of Phillip Morris, including the
good that Phillip Morris has done. Furthermore,
if one advocates a stockholder view of the corporation and its moral obligations, philanthropic
donations are only justified insofar as they help
the company to turn a profit for stockholders
(Friedman, 1970; Hasnas, 1998). Thus spending

The Ethics of Marketing Good Corporate Conduct

more on advertising philanthropy than on the
philanthropy itself is entirely justified on such a
Even though a stockholder view of corporate
obligation is itself highly contentious amongst
many business ethicists, even if managerial obligations are so drastically limited as this sort of
theory suggests, I would maintain that there is
still good reason to think that these practices are
immoral. Even stockholder theorists maintain
that pursuit of profit is only justified given certain
basic constraints. Although it is true that the
company has a right, and perhaps even an
obligation, to let consumers know all of the
relevant facts concerning its corporate character,
it does not thereby follow that an advertising
campaign is the most appropriate means by
which to disseminate such information. For all
of the reasons that Lippke gives for thinking
that mass advertising is morally problematic in
general, advertising to disseminate relevant information concerning corporate character is even
more problematic. Ads are generally designed
to appeal to the emotions and quick judgment
rather than to reasoned discussion. Ads
commonly rely upon a select subset of information rather than providing all of the relevant
information needed to make a decision. While
these practices may be common and perhaps
even relatively harmless when used to advertise
products, they are far more suspect when used
to advertise the companys moral character.
Especially with something so serious as ones
considered moral judgment, attention to careful
reasoned decision making and access to all of the
relevant facts is necessary. This does not mean
that advertising with respect to corporate good
conduct is inherently wrong. It does follow,
however, that many practices commonly used in
marketing are thoroughly inappropriate to advertising corporate good conduct.
The Phillip Morris campaign, People, bears
two fundamental morally unacceptable features.
First, the campaign uses the value attached to
right conduct as a mere means towards increased
profit and positive brand associations. Right
conduct is a far more valuable aspect of human
existence than mere profit on any account. Using
something of higher value, and perhaps even of


the utmost value, to promote something of

secondary value is unacceptable and indicates a
lack of respect for what matters most, namely
good character and right conduct. Take, for
instance, the case of someone seeking to win an
election for homecoming queen who makes
several very visible appearances at the local soup
kitchen or at a community service day just before
the election. She rarely ever engages in community service activities otherwise and would not
participate in these activities if not for the
contest. There is clearly something wrong with
her behavior. Part of the problem is the way in
which this approach appeals to the values associated with the moral good to promote something of lesser value, namely this particular
individuals winning a contest for beauty and
popularity. Feigning high moral character or
attempting to gain esteem merely to achieve
some other lesser end indicates a lack of respect
for moral values that are clearly of a higher value
than the secondary ends these values are used to
In the case of Phillip Morris, this problem is
exacerbated by the fact that Phillip Morris has
used the value that individuals associate with
what is morally good and right in order to offset
the damage that it has done to its own business
through its past failures to act in a fashion that
is respectful of what right conduct demands.
Thus, the company has displayed an utter disregard for values attached to the moral good twice
over: first by deceiving customers concerning
health risks and preying upon children who are
especially vulnerable, and second by profaning
the moral law yet again by selectively appealing
to it only to regain profits lost as punishment for
its earlier indiscretions.
It might be objected that this sort of criticism
of Phillip Morris presupposes that good corporate conduct can never be marketed in an ethically acceptable fashion since businesses would
always market good corporate conduct with an
eye towards whether or not the action would
result in increased profit. Thus, all marketing of
good corporate conduct in effect merely uses
the value of the moral good or right, something
of the utmost value, for the pursuit of profit,
something of secondary value. But just as indi-


Mary Lyn Stoll

viduals that engage in good conduct may reap

the rewards of moral praise without thereby
impugning the moral praiseworthiness of their
actions, so too companies may reap the rewards
of moral praise even when this entails greater
profit without it thereby following that the action
was done solely for the purpose of gaining profit
by whatever means necessary. There is nothing
intrinsically wrong with receiving deserved
moral praise especially when this praise allows a
company to offset potential financial costs of
engaging in ethical conduct. On the other hand,
there is something wrong with deliberately
manipulating public sentiment so as to reap the
rewards of moral praise even when the recipient
does not ultimately deserve such praise. In the
case of the Phillip Morris People campaign,
the fact that (1) far more was spent on advertising
the good deeds than on the good deeds themselves and (2) the campaign was designed in part
to help the company avoid deserved moral blame
for prior misdeeds, indicates that moral praise
may not be appropriate.

III. Appropriate marketing of good

III. corporate conduct
In order to market good corporate conduct in a
morally acceptable fashion, one must constantly
bear in mind that such marketing is premised
upon the notion that the company should benefit
from deserved moral praise but that companies
ought not use the values associated with the
moral good and with right conduct solely as a
means towards increasing profit. When evaluating
the moral character of either a person or an
organization it is of the utmost importance that
honesty, non-deception, and non-coercion are
maintained. If marketers engage in mild deception or slight manipulation when selling a new
perfume or motor oil, the stakes are nowhere
near as high as when such deception or manipulation occurs with respect to evaluations of
moral character. In the first case, deceptive marketing may lessen somewhat the value that a
consumer attaches to a particular brand of
perfume or of oil and may decrease slightly ones
sense of trust in others. In the second case,

deceptive marketing practices may result in a

lesser value attached to morality itself and may
greatly decrease ones trust of others. After all, if
an organization is willing to lie about even its
own moral character, something of the utmost
value, then it is likely that this same organization will lie about anything whatsoever.
The importance of honesty with respect to
evaluations of moral character entails that marketers of good corporate conduct must not only
avoid even mild deception or subtle manipulation but that the company itself must be open
to further critical evaluation to ensure that honest
presentation of relevant facts is available. Honest
presentation of the facts concerning moral
judgments of corporate conduct are especially
important not only because they are judgments
concerning something of the utmost importance,
namely right conduct, but also because it is only
with accurate estimations of the moral rightness
of corporate character that companies will
continue to be motivated to do what is right.
Since companies may be quite powerful, and
often extend their activities beyond the boundaries of any given country, it is especially important that companies be motivated by fear of
deserved moral reprobation if their activities are
to be constrained by moral considerations even
when the law does not so constrain their actions.
It is also especially important that companies
which do not deserve the benefits of moral
praise, including a possible willingness on the part
of consumers to pay more for the product or
service, do not as a rule reap those benefits.
Otherwise their competitors, who may incur
such costs, will be unable to compete with others
in the industry that do not incur such costs but
reap the same financial benefits nonetheless. To
secure both of these ends, it is thus crucial that
the marketing of good corporate conduct go
hand in hand with an openness to external audits
to ensure the accuracy of information provided.
For this reason, the Body Shop provides a
good example of appropriate marketing of good
corporate conduct. Not only does the Body
Shop market itself as a company sensitive to the
needs of persons living in third world countries,
opposed to unnecessary animal testing, and
opposed to preying upon womens insecurities

The Ethics of Marketing Good Corporate Conduct

with respect to masculinist notions of beauty, it
also opens itself up to outside audits on a regular
The Body Shop has carved out a niche for
itself as a company with a reputation for social
responsibility. Instead of simply using standard
chemical ingredients, the Body Shop has sought
out natural ingredients and products that can be
produced in third world countries, especially by
poor women, for which it then pays a decent
price. The Trade Not Aid campaign is thus
designed to address the companys obligations to
social justice. Early on, the Body Shop also
sought to produce products that were not tested
on animals and which included ingredients that
had not been tested on animals in the recent past.
Finally, the Body Shop, rather than launching
the standard cosmetics advertising campaigns
with dangerously thin models promising sexual
prowess and eternal youth, launched a campaign
with a more realistic looking Barbie doll to highlight the ways in which the industry as a
whole engages in marketing practices that prey
upon womens insecurities in a patriarchal youth
obsessed society. The company also makes a concerted effort to avoid marketing that creates
needs for women that would not exist otherwise
and lists all ingredients on its labels even when
this is not required by law. The Body Shops
commitment to honesty in marketing even
extended so far as to labeling one hair treatment
product with the warning that it contained henna
which is smelly and resembles manure (Hartman
and Beck-Dudley, 1999).5 In the judgment of
many reflective consumers, these examples are
paradigmatic of the nature of good corporate
moral conduct. Rather than launching a barrage
of repetitive television ads, the company avoided
marketing good corporate conduct in this
fashion. Instead it relied upon word of mouth,
news stories, a book by the companys founder,
pamphlets, and posters in store windows to get
the message across.
But perhaps even more importantly, the Body
Shop is subject to regular social audits with
outside input in order to ensure that the
company is responsive to concerns voiced by
workers, customers, and citizens.6 This is what
helps to guarantee that whatever benefits it gains


from the perceived moral praiseworthiness of its

actions are in fact deserved. The company has
run five independently verified environmental
statements since 1992. The company has also
done a number of more general social audits in
order to give voice to various stakeholders and
their concerns. When the company faced
scrutiny over its decisions, for instance putting
petroleum based ingredients in its products, it
made an honest attempt to address such concerns.
Although it first questioned the methods used
by reporters breaking the story and wrote a
letter to Business Ethics, under false pretenses,
defending its position, the Body Shop later
explained how it felt that the public had simply
misunderstood its stated policy and after a social
audit vowed to control its grouchiness when
faced with critical scrutiny (Sillanpaa, 1998).7
Since all ingredients are listed even when the law
does not require it and since outside audits are
routinely carried out, the Body Shop arguably
deserves whatever benefits it gains from marketing its good corporate conduct.
While not all companies will find it feasible
to engage in honesty in marketing to quite the
extent that the Body Shop has done, all companies should aspire to being as honest and as
careful not to manipulate or coerce judgments
concerning the marketing of good corporate
conduct. Since there is so much more at stake,
it is especially important that the considered
moral judgments of consumers rest upon accurate
information rather than the occasionally manipulative and often opaque presentation of information in standard marketing campaigns. Because
it is so important both with respect to motivating
companies to respect the constraints upon action
imposed by moral laws and with respect to
promoting and protecting a general respect for
the values associated with the moral good and
right action, marketing of good corporate
conduct must be undertaken with special care
and honesty. This honesty must be guaranteed by
an openness and willingness by companies to
engage in outside social audits with respect to the
good corporate conduct from which the
company hopes to benefit.8 Using Phillip Morris
example of how companies may market good
conduct in a way that is disrespectful of the moral


Mary Lyn Stoll

good and of right action and the Body Shops

example of how good corporate conduct may
be made public in a morally acceptable fashion,
marketers can gain some of idea of what appropriate marketing of good corporate conduct
entails. Marketers must consistently bear in mind
the importance of marketing good corporate
conduct in a fashion that does not treat the value
of right conduct as secondary in value to the procurement of profit. This may be achieved by
making a special effort to be honest in advertising
good corporate conduct.

IV. Conclusion
I have argued that a certain level of deception
or less than forthright presentation of relevant
facts by those marketing products may not be
particularly harmful so long as individuals are
aware of such practices and able to make wellreasoned decisions concerning the effects of such
campaigns upon their purchasing decisions. But
such practices are much more serious when used
to promote purported good corporate conduct.
While it is not wrong, per se, for a company to
market and benefit from moral praise for good
corporate conduct, it is wrong for companies to
use the values associated with the moral good and
with right action as a mere means to gaining
greater profit. Deception with respect to corporate character is more problematic since: (a) It is
a far greater omission and a far greater attack
upon the institution of trust as such to lie about
facts relevant to determining the moral praiseworthiness of an action or institution than to
engage in deception with respect to marketing a
good or service. (b) This practice undermines
moral motivation for companies to actually
engage in right action rather than merely
appearing to merit moral praise. Further, (c) It
is wrong to use something of the utmost value,
such as the moral good or right action, as a mere
means to something of lesser value such as profit.
In order for companies to engage in the marketing of good corporate conduct in a morally
acceptable fashion, companies must not produce
a barrage of ads that encourage faulty reasoning
and must stem practices of selective presentation

of relevant facts more common in other areas

of marketing companies must also in general
recognize a greater obligation to clarity, honesty,
and non-coercion in presenting facts relevant to
the companys garnering the benefits of perceived
morally praiseworthy action. To achieve this end,
it is also important that companies which engage
in the marketing of good corporate conduct
make every effort to ensure that consumers are
granted access to relevant information and that
outside audits with respect to the good corporate conduct marketed are available. This is likely
one of the only ways to ensure that the benefits
of moral praise garnered by making moral praiseworthiness of corporate actions more widely
known through marketing strategies are in fact
justly deserved.
I would like to thank attendees of the Eighth
Annual International Conference Promoting
Business Ethics for their helpful advice and
recommendations on an earlier version of this

For more on objections to the pervasiveness of mass

advertising and its affect upon autonomy, see
Sneddon, 2001.
On the extent to which the principle of caveat
emptor is presupposed by and or limited by United
States culture and law, see Carson, 2001.
For more on public censure as a means of affecting
corporate behavior, see Maynard, 2001.
I do not mean to suggest that the Body Shop is a
perfectly virtuous company, merely that they have
done a particularly good job with marketing good
corporate conduct. There may have never been a perfectly virtuous person, but this does not entail that
the concept of the virtuous person cannot guide our
actions as an ideal towards which we may strive. So
too, even if there has never been a perfectly virtuous
company, it need not follow that the ideal of the
virtuous company cannot be a useful guide to action.
A clearer conception of this ideal may be developed
by examining various companies that embody one or
more virtues of a specific virtues even if no one

The Ethics of Marketing Good Corporate Conduct

company embodies all possible virtues appropriate to
For more on the ethics of womens advertising, see
Cohan, 2001.
For further information on the benefits of social
audits in guaranteeing good corporate conduct, see
Hess, 2001.
Although it would have been better had the Body
Shop reacted in a less aggressively defensive manner
when faced with initial public scrutiny, the company
is still a good model. Even though its behavior in the
past has not always been perfect, the company has
the added virtue of recognizing past failures and
making strides to improve upon them. Corporate
character can not be thought of as static. A company
with good character, like an individual with good
character, is constantly evolving. This evolution and
growth in the face of past failures is as much a part
of good character as is any corporate virtue.
When a company decides to market its charitable
donations to nonprofits using the logos of nonprofit
organizations, it is again especially important that
honesty is maintained. This kind of marketing is a
particular sort of marketing good corporate conduct.
It is especially important that such ads do not
encourage consumers to infer that nonprofit organizations have endorsed the company or its product
even when they have not. Failure to make this clear
or failure to disclose whether or not nonprofits were
paid for the use of their logo in such ads is yet another
case of using the values associated with the moral
good and with right conduct to advance something
of secondary value, namely profit. For more on this
particular sort of marketing good corporate conduct,
see also Wulfson, 2001.

Adbusters: Journal of the Mental Environment: 2001, 36,
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Department of Philosophy,
Minnesota State University, Mankato,
Mankato, MN 56001,