Marketing ethics is the systematic study of how moral standards are applied to marketing decisions, behaviors, and institutions (Charles, 13).According to Charles, marketing ethics is a subject which seems to continually generate a great deal of heat but very little light (Charles, 6). Charles further says that it is impossible to attend a professional meeting, whether of advertising educators or advertising practitioners without hearing reference to ethical or responsible advertising practice (Charles, 7). Because marketing is a process inherent to most organizations, marketing ethics should be viewed as a subset of business ethics; thus, much of what is written about business ethics applies to marketing ethics as well. According to George advertising ethics is a mature field of research and this area attracts a great deal of research attention (George, 5) Ethics is an area which requires each individual to take a stand (George, 5).
Because marketing is the organizational process focused directly on exchange, ethical issues in marketing have existed since the inception of trade. The Roman philosopher Cicero counseled merchants to avoid raising prices too high in times of shortage, lest they alienate their customers, who might shun them when supplies were more abundant (Andrew, 11).According to Wallace advertising must be attractive and relevant to the cultural influences of our society. It must be provocative in terms of persuading action (Wallace, 9). Wallace further says that companies that follow high ethical principles in their advertisements will do well by doing well (Wallace, 9). Michael investigates several articles and concludes that advertising ethics are now a mainstream topic in advertising literature (Michael, 2).
At the heart of marketing ethics are decisions that marketing practitioners make about ethical questions. Ethical questions most often arise in marketing when a stakeholder group or some segment of the public feels that the actions taken by some (or many) marketers might be judged to be morally inappropriate (Anthony, 2). Currently, for instance, many consumers feel that spam advertising over the Internet is far too prevalent and/or that product rebates have too often been intentionally made to be difficult to redeem. Similarly, other ethical questions occur when marketing managers believe that they might be compromising their own personal values in the quest for increased organizational profit. In such situations, marketers are often evaluating whether they should take business actions that they feel ought not to be done from the standpoint of personal ethics that they hold—the essence of an ethical dilemma (Bert, 4). Most managers cannot avoid facing such tough issues because the majority of marketing professionals report confronting such ethical questions at some point in their careers. These “ethical” branch points can pertain to a host of marketing issues such as selling cigarettes to teenagers, the promotion of violence-oriented video games, pricing products at a level that exploits unsuspecting consumers, bluffing in negotiations with long-time suppliers, writing intentionally misleading ad copy, and so on. If the marketing actions that are taken happen to be in violation of the law, these are ...