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Definition and Development of Marketing Ethics


The earliest structured argument about the use of ethical principles in business choices dates back to the 1960s (Sele, 2006). However, the notions of Corporate Social Responsibility established in that period vary substantially from our contemporary perspective. Actually, today academicians and practitioners distinguish that business has a duty to society that goes further than obedience to the law when manufacturing and distributing goods and services (Buchholz, 1991). Due to its position as a gateway linking the corporate environment and the business itself, marketing is perhaps the most important area in the company to be affected by ethics. Consequently, ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility have become vital topics for marketing decisions (Hunt & Vitell, 2006): they are deemed mechanisms to achieve competitive advantages and they then represent a bright investment.

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According to the most highly developed theories, companies should not only value contractual responsibilities but should also prevent customers from any possible damage deriving from their products. Sequentially t, firms should be in charge of the entire production process so as to be sure that their decisions and statements about product ethics are at that time really incorporated in final products.

As a matter of fact, whereas on the one side the company is still held responsible towards the customers, it has to develop methods and devices in order to keep hold of the outsourced production to guarantee merchandise safety and quality. Recent practices have enhanced hazards, as demonstrated by fresh pitfalls by some prominent companies, highlighting the existence of a huge gap between corporate declarations about ethics and the final output, created through outsourcing.

This paper endeavors to scrutinize theoretical and practical dilemmas and implications happening from the distance between the locus of ethical options and the locus of the relevance of these judgments.


Marketing ethics is viewed as essential because of marketing’s edge with many different stakeholders. It is a key occupational area in the business organization that grants a noticeable interface with not only clients, but other stakeholders for instance the media, and trade associations. It is essential when addressing marketing ethics to be aware that it should be examined from a personal, organizational, and communal perspective. Probing marketing ethics from a constricted issue perspective does not provide first background that provides a whole understanding of the sphere of marketing ethics. The rationale of this paper is to label, study the nature and identify issues, afford a decision-making outline, and draw the historical growth of marketing ethics from a practice as well as academic perspective (Brenkert, 2008, p 215).

Marketing ethics involves the systematic learning of how moral standards are used in marketing decisions, activities, and institutions. Since marketing is a process intrinsic to most businesses, marketing ethics should be viewed as a division of business ethics; therefore, much of what is in print about business ethics relates to marketing ethics as well. To begin with, it is useful to differentiate between positive and normative marketing ethics (Bellizzi, and Hasty, 2003, p 339). On the contrary, normative marketing ethics involves how marketing ought to function in regard to some moral standard or theory. Moral frameworks frequently used when evaluating company ethics can also be applied in advertising. Once the words “marketing ethics” come into view of the common media or business press, the news typically portray a marketing strategy, scheme, or policy that some population feels is “unfair” or “despotic” or “misleading.” Often, the ensuing discussion turns to how marketing practices might develop into more consumer-friendly, collectively friendly, or put in philosophical expressions, how marketing might be normatively improved (Bellizzi, and Hasty, 2003, p 346).

Normative marketing practices are those that highlight transparent, honest, and accountable personal and/or governmental marketing policies and acts, and demonstrate integrity as well as justice to consumers and other stakeholders. In the true character of normative ethical values, this definition gives certain virtues and values to which marketing practitioners have to to aim (Kotler, & Keller, 2005).

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Definition of Marketing Ethics

Ethics has been expressed as the study and way of life of human, with a prominence on the fortitude of right and wrong. Marketers, view ethics in the place of work as rules (standards, principles) leading the conduct of organizational affiliates and the cost of marketing choices (Ferrell, 2005). Consequently, ethical marketing from a normative outlook is defined as practices that stresses clear, trustworthy, and answerable personal and executive marketing policies and deeds that display integrity as well as sprite to customers and other stakeholders (Murphy, Laczniak, Bowie and Klein, 2005, p34). Marketing ethics centers on theories and standards that characterize tolerable marketing conduct, as established by different stakeholders and the organization in charge for marketing activities. Whilst many of the fundamental principles have been codified as rules and regulations to oblige marketers to match to society’s anticipations of conduct, marketing ethics goes past legal and regulatory matters (Brenkert, 2008, p 125). Ethical marketing processes and principles are foundational building blocks in creating trust, which help put together long-term marketing bonds. Besides, the boundary-spanning character of marketing puts forward many of the ethical concerns faced in business at the moment.

Marketing practitioners and marketing scholars approach ethics from diverse perspectives. For instance, one perspective is that ethics entails being a moral entity and that; personal principles and moral philosophies are the important to ethical resolutions in marketing. Qualities such as sincerity, sprite and responsibility are understood to be values that can direct complex marketing choices in the context of an organization. Alternatively, approaching ethics from a business perspective supposes that creating organizational values and training is needed to provide steady and shared advances to making ethical decisions (Ferrell and Ferrell, 2005, p 60).

The difference between a normal decision and an ethical one is that conventional rules may not apply and the decision-maker must consider values in a state that he or she may not have met before. The amount of emphasis laid on a person’s values also varies when making an ethical decision. An ethical impasse develops when the choice between option actions whose moral content is vague. Whether a definite behavior is right or wrong, ethical or unethical is frequently determined by the fretful stakeholders and an individual’s own ethics. As a result, values, decisions, and multifaceted situations all take part in ethical decision making (Kotler, & Keller, 2005).

Stakeholders allocate the individuals, groups and communities that can unswervingly or indirectly influence, or be affected by, a firm’s actions. Marketing stakeholders can be looked as both in-house and outside. Internal stakeholders comprise various departments, the management, employees, and other concerned internal parties. External stakeholders consist of competitors, advertising companies and regulators. The mixture of affairs should be recognized and interests understood. The difficulty surrounding a purpose of the effects of marketing transactions on all pertinent stakeholders entails the identification of stakeholders in the swap process (Fry and Polonsky, 2004).

The re-conceptualization of the marketing model based on a long-term, manifold stakeholder approach has also been put forward as a dogmatic model for organizational duty in marketing (Kimery and Rinehart, 1998). Derived from these developments, there is a need for marketing to establish more stakeholder orientation rather than a slim customer orientation. Accordingly, organizations are now on the spot to demonstrate initiatives that take a impartial perspective on stakeholder welfare (Maignan, Ferrell, and Ferrell, 2005).

Historical Development of Marketing Ethics

The historical backdrop for marketing ethics is a derivative from early fears throughout the turn of the 20th century concerning antitrust and customer protection, particularly tainted food products. From the initiation of advertisement, there have constantly been concerns about caricatures and persistent deception of consumers. In the academic account of marketing, one of the first commentaries that emerged in the Journal of Marketing stated that, ethics was not straightforwardly addressed, but the brunt of resale price protection on competition, principally channel members and clientele, was addressed. The worry was that customers were not getting information about charges and might assume that the value of coffee offered by all suppliers was identical. The majority academic issuing in the 1950s centered on issues such as reasonable trade, advertising and pricing.

At some point in the 1960s, American society twirled to causes. An anti-business approach build up as many opponents attacked the vested interests that managed the financial and political faces of society. These years saw the rot of inner cities and the increase of environmental problems, such as pollution and the dumping of toxic and nuclear wastes. There was a rise of consumerism, activities carried out by independent persons, and organizations to guard their privileges as consumers. (Ferrell, Fraedrich, and Ferrell, 2005).

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Robert Bartels (1967) threw in the first all-inclusive model for ethics in marketing. This initial academic conceptualization of the variables that manipulate marketing ethics tried to resolve the logical foundation for marketers to settle on what is right or wrong. It presented a representation for analyzing the variables innate in the ethics of decision making; and afforded a framework for social and individual ethics in marketing decisions. The model did a good work in defining variables that affect ethical decision making, e.g. participants, society’s influencers, task expectations, and the convolution of ethical decision making.

In the 1970s major research was carried out to illustrate the beliefs of managers about marketing ethics. The results indicated that respondents observed that the ethical principles of their peers and top management were worse than their own standards. Experiential research in the 1970s set the phase for frameworks that illustrate ethical decision making in the context of a marketing group (Greenley, Hooley, Broderick, and Rudd, 2004, p 164).

The Ferrell and Gresham (1985) stressed the interface of the individual and organization, together with organization culture, and opportunity to give details how ethical decisions are made. The majority of the propositions in this sculpt have been weathered to provide a grounded thoughtful ethical decision making. Research pursued in both marketing and organizational literature that helped to evaluate the Ferrell and Gresham models (Hunt and Vitell, 2005).

In the 1980s, commerce and academics admitted business ethics as a vital field of study. As the regulatory scheme was developing encouragements for ethical conduct in organizations, Hunt, Wood and Chonko (1989) conducted research signifying a strong linkage between corporate ethical ideals and organizational pledge in marketing. They developed first understanding of the connection between ethics and law in marketing exchange. This was a considerable contribution because some onlookers took the perspective that the legal and ethical scopes of exchange were independent. They concluded that ethical marketing substitutes required a managerial stress on ethical corporate customs, and ethical audits.

As the 21st century came, ethics in the world of trade became a main issue with outrages associated with Enron related with accounting scam, in most cases companies for example Sunbeam, using record sales shifting strategies, relied on salespersons to assist execute the fraud (Greenley, Hooley, Broderick, and Rudd, 2004, p 173). These actions resulted in the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002- the most sweeping change in organization control, and government supervision from the time when the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 was enacted.

Major Issues in Marketing Ethics

With its very nature, marketing ethics is contentious, and there is no unanimously conventional approach for resolving issues. Ethical issues tackle a problem, condition, or prospect that requires an individual to choose among numerous actions that must be assessed as right or wrong (Ferrell, Fraedrich, and Ferrell, 2005). The organization and stakeholders must label marketing ethical matters that must be recognized and resolved to put up trust and valuable relationships with stakeholders. Since marketing ethics from time to time deals with subjective moral options, this requires decisions regarding the moral standards to affect and the description of ethics issues (Murphy, Laczniak, Bowie and Klein, 2005).

On the other hand, many groups in the public, including government, are setting ethical and legal issues and practical approaches to handle these issues. For instance, millions of blogs or personal web logs are present on the Internet with no formal code of ethics or guideline(Greenley, etal, 2004). Organizations are being requested to prevent and control misdemeanors by implementing ethical conformity programs. Ethics conveys many rewards to organizations that foster it, although managing ethics entails activity and consideration on several levels.

High ethical standards necessitate both organizations and individuals to match to proper moral principles. Fair trade has come out to link ethically minded clients with marketers concerned with poor manufacturers in developing nations. Nonetheless, universal factors must be regarded when applying ethics to marketing. Foremost, to endure, marketers must throw in to profits or other organizational objectives. Marketing should balance between the attainment of organizational targets and the responsibility of the business to the community. This often requires give and takes or tradeoffs. To deal with these unique aspects, the public has developed rules—both lawful and unspoken; to direct marketers in their efforts to arrive at their objectives in conduct that does not harm individuals or the entire society (Greenley, etal, 2004).

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The Sphere of Marketing Ethics

The rapport between a customer and an organization subsists because of shared expectations established on good faith, and fair agreement in their relations. In actual fact, there is a disguised covenant of good faith and fair dealing, as well as performance cannot simply be a subject of the firm’s own discretion (Ferrell, 2004). This is an ethical requirement and has been enforced in some states. The indirect covenant of good faith and reasonable dealing is to put into effect the contract or transaction in a manner unswerving with the parties’ logical expectations. This responsibility of good faith appears to be an institutional or official approach to implementation of ethical conduct in marketing.

Marketing ethics not only calls for an effort to make ethical decisions, other than it avoids the unintended costs of marketing activities. This requires deliberation of key stakeholders and their applicable interests (Fry and Polonsky, 2004). Market direction has been established as the answer to the flourishing implementation of marketing strategies.

A rising area of concern is product counterfeiting. This involves the unlawful copy of copyrighted products, innovations, and trademarks or the contravention of registered rights. Counterfeiting has become rampant with fast moving goods and the movie and music industries. This is immoral and, in most souks around the world, illegitimate as well.

Fraudulently some people dishonestly capture other company’s products and restructure it without compensation to the original manufacturers. Some other goods and services often have adverse effects on the environment. These include vehicles which emit hydrogenated carbons which contribute to global warming. The use of certain agricultural chemicals leads to pollution of the land and water sources. Lack of proper disposal of pesticides and the use of persisted brands often has lethal effects on the environment. In addition they contribute to ground water pollution. Health care wastes that are from time to time dumped into water bodies because the correct discarding of such material is onerous for the user (Jones, 1991, p 386).

Another cause to all this is a progressively more disposable means in the developed world where a convenience approach is used in disposing unwanted goods, products and technological wastes, exaggerated by marketing. Much dishonesty in many businesses accrues from the area of pricing with managements having to content with a difficult scenario of profits versus consumer welfare. Essentially the demand and cost of commodities should help in setting the prices. At every stage in setting the price, fairness and justice to consumers is a moral obligation to every business. Example, a high demand for certain commodities such as construction materials may result from the occurrence of natural calamity with a high demand exerting pressure on supply, many business face the temptation of increasing prices for such goods. Multinational companies and other market leaders in certain countries have used unethical means such as hoarding of commodities, or even using predatory prices to increase the customer bases at the expense of other businesses with low capital bases. Even as many stakeholders agree all businesses have to make some profit from their sales, the question of what is the fair price for consumers remains a difficult area to strike a lasting solution. This has existed for a long time and as the competition soars more of the same tactics are employed to survive in the (Hunt and Vitell, 2005).

A great role in driving the modern day economies is played by advertising. It lures customers to purchasing of all sorts of commodities at times disregarding the actual quality of the goods. Most of the advertisements are inclined and at times openly, however many consumers and regulatory bodies have remain ignorant or unconcerned with adverts seeming entertaining and informative (Jones, 1991). In some cases advertisements contravene the law by having intentional omissions or commissions. Promotion of suggestive materials in magazines e.g. explicit pictures used in marketing of brands around the world, still remain a moral puzzle and challenges ethics as to what extend does advertisement become immoral and violate the law. This has been enhanced by a large section of the society which seems attached to some lifestyles that the conservative in society will deem immoral or to a less extend controversial. Repeatedly many people have raise concerns of these kinds of flyers and advertisements. Frequently included on those lists are issues about the aptness of tobacco and alcohol advertising, the exercise of stereotypical similes in advertising.

One of the more inquisitive features of ethics in advertising is that the participation of numerous parties in the formation of advertising has perhaps led to a lesser ethical standard in the practice of advertising than one might be expecting. The presence of several parties, none of whom has full tasks has shaped the default position of leaving it to the others to communicate and put into effect a suitable ethical standard.

As explicitly regards product, the most momentous decisions having deep ethical repercussions are about preparation and positioning (Murphy et al. 2005). With respect to the quality of the product, two major theories should be cited: the contractual theory, which indicates that the relationship between the business and its customers has a contractual form, denoting that the firm has the ethical duty to supply a product with some uniqueness and that the customer has the correlative right to get a product with these characteristics. Above all the supplier has to clear and observe in perform some statements about product consistency.

The due care theory, indicates that the business is accountable towards its clients, who represent the less commanding actor within the buyer-seller link. As a matter of fact clients do not have all the necessary information to appraise product safety and thus they should be protected. As a result the businesses have to guarantee that the product will not inflict any damage or danger to the clients (Hunt and Vitell, 2005). Emerging from the stated theories is that the corporation should go through a sequence of ethical choices about the goods and should then operate several comprehensive checks in order to prevent any safety dangers for the consumer. Control over the process then represents an essential point to realize these objectives.

Responsible Marketing Practice

Despite considerable academic efforts to clarify and influence ethical behavior in marketing, the business press persists with very frequent articles on a litany of marketing contraventions including fitting fees in the retail sector, the marketing practices of cigarettes, and other risky products along with rampant negative advertising by politicians practically at all levels and all parties. Before criticizing the illustrious and well-chronicled ethical inadequacies of industry, marketers could grip a more ethical organization. Responsible marketing is an aim of many advertising organizations (Hunt and Vitell, 2005).

Decision making by marketers is central in the exercise of business ethics. The decisions made usually affect the general public or sections of the society. Certain people may find offensive some of the decisions, whereas others may not fault such decisions. At present, for instance, many clients feel that spam advertising over the Internet is overly prevalent and that product reimbursements have too often been deliberately made to be complicated to cash in (Maignan, Ferrell, and Ferrell, 2004 p. 14). In the same way, additional ethical matters take place when managers suppose that they might be selling away their individual personal pursuit of profits. In such situations, it should be assessed if businesses take action which they think are harmful to their profits or ignore the decisions at the expense of marketing ethics.

Many marketing managers always encounter these dilemmas in their daily activities. Selling cigarettes to adolescents or setting prices for commodities higher than normal for unsuspecting clients, writing calculatedly deceptive commercials are some of the common issues cutting across many marketers. In the event that such decisions contravene the law, they are undoubtfully immoral and unethical. Nevertheless, many actions which are not illegal may be characterized as inappropriate based on existing ethical standards or morals or a given society (Maignan, Ferrell, and Ferrell, 2004 p. 8). Consequently, marketing ethics should always put in to consideration actions that are not forbidden by the law although conceivably should not be undertaken owing to various moral concerns. Thus, marketing ethics is over and over again addressing the actions that are presently legal but at the same time might be seen as unacceptable according to a number of cited moral standards.


A great deal of development has been made in advancing theory and studies in marketing ethics. Besides, marketing has been raised to higher levels of ethics from professional codes of conduct. Most businesses have developed full codes of conduct that address precise ethical hazard areas in marketing practice. Modern regulatory changes that oblige boards of directors to be in charge of all ethics issues within an organization promote the value of marketing ethics. It is apparent that marketing ethics is an ingredient of organizational duty and individuals cannot make autonomous decisions about the right conduct (Hunt and Vitell, 2005). There is credit through academic research and regulatory proposals that corporate culture has a key role in enhancing marketing ethics. Marketing ethics as a part of marketing generally is seen as falling under the sunshade of marketing and society. Ethical matters are often strongly associated with legal ones and the public policy practice is invoked when marketers cross the boundaries from immoral to illegal behavior. Investigations are needed on the interface between moral, societal and community policy questions.

Reference List

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