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Marketing Ethics


Marketing Ethics


So you are a marketer, huh? What does that mean? It means that you are well-paid, respected, educated in marketing and, hopefully, skilled in the areas of influence and persuasion. You are the person who endears your company, product or service to an identified section of the community. You are paid to persuade people to buy, develop dependence and ideally fall in love with your company and its offering.

All going to plan, you increase market share, exceed revenue targets and shareholder returns grow. As a result, you get bonuses and are able to trade your Honda, and lease the new Audi A6.

Sounds all right you think; however, when you scratch the surface things aren’t as they seem. For many, the role of being a marketer involves unknowingly condoning and rewarding practices that are unethical, cruel and inhumane. For most of us, the term ‘social responsibility’ refers to environmental issues and the more overt corporate acts of disrespect towards the planet and the larger community. Marketing practices are seen by most of us to be responsibility neutral, but if you dig a little you may find that you as a marketer are in some way responsible for significant hardship and suffering.

You see, effective marketing increases demand and grows brand equity. This leads to increased purchase orders, inventory and manufacturing. Stop right there. Did someone say manufacturing? I can hear you saying, “I am a marketer not a manufacturer, what do I know about manufacturing?” Excellent question and welcome to the big picture. What do you know about the manufacturing procedures involved in getting your offering on the shelves? Probably very little.

Exploitation and suffering is far more widespread than most marketers understand. Most marketers stay focused on achieving targets, optimising outcomes and gaining reward for their efforts. Somehow the bigger picture and political issues that exist around the brand are either completely unknown, or seen as someone else’s concern.

Money and recognition are identified as the most potent motivators for human behaviour, and for the majority of marketers, these motivators provide a very clear, easy and safe mode of operating. Sadly this modus operandi can be directly attributed to why animal and human exploitation continues to boom.

I am reluctant to use the word ‘exploitation’ to describe the situation because it fails to accurately illustrate the concept of suffering. To help, let’s look at the three areas in question: animal pain, suffering and violent death; human pain, suffering and oppression; and degradation and dehumanisation of society. All three situations are, without exception, unnecessary, and only exist to make the more fortunate more comfortable or improve self image.

Animal pain, suffering and violent death


It is estimated that in the past five years, unnecessary testing has been inflicted on over 150,000 dogs, 100,000 cats and over 50,000 non-human primates. Before you dismiss these figures as a promo for Greenpeace, understand this cruelty was conducted in Australia and the US alone, and commissioned by commercial, retail-focused organisations.

While most of us rarely consider anything but our immediate circumstances, it is important to know that if you are responsible for driving sales and gaining market share for your product, you may also be responsible for driving up the statistics of animal suffering.

Imagine you have been offered two jobs. Both jobs pay the same and are with commercially reputable companies. Most professional marketers will in this instance investigate pipelines, budgets and possibly market intelligence reports. These insights will help in making the best possible financial and personal experiential decision; however, you will fail to uncover the fact that one enjoys appalling animal rights records while the other is featured on the Caring Consumer No Testing list (www.caringconsumer.com).

Animal testing practices occur unnecessarily in the production of many household brands. Most of the time this occurs without any awareness from those engaged to market and sell them. The beauty industry repeatedly attracts media and community attention for committing ongoing atrocities against animals. Organisations that utilise more ethical practices stand to gain significant market share in the current environment of social responsibility. One such organisation that is effectively marketing its ethically manufactured products is Wollongong-based cosmetics company Inika, which is not only 100 percent cruelty free, but one of the very few vegan cosmetic brands on the market. It pays to understand more about how your products make it onto the display stands. In the current climate of environmental awareness, more people are making choices in line with their own moral and ethical platforms.

Clothing and apparel

If you market any apparel that involves leather, you are essentially a murderer. As a meat eater, this probably doesn’t bother you. What may be more bothersome, however, is the suffering that cattle experience before they become your premium pair of market share-dominant school shoes, designer loafers or next winter’s flagship jacket.

There are cruelty-free leather practices that exist and are well worth investigating if you have ethical concerns about your product’s manufacturing processes. As we have seen from vegan footwear success story ‘Crocs’, there is more to marketing that just appearances.

Human pain, suffering and oppression

Global commercial expansion in the last decade has interfered with many of the local governing bodies responsible for monitoring and managing the working conditions of humans throughout the world. This new ‘smaller world’ has equated to an accelerating quest to find cheaper and quicker ways to produce basically everything.

Most of us became aware of human rights violations through the heavy and damaging media exposure that Nike received in the mid 90s. In those days, a newspaper article that mentioned Nike probably also mentioned sweatshops in the same sentence. Since then, Nike has done a very good job of monitoring and regulating the treatment of the people involved in manufacturing, and has reportedly experienced a return from the more ethical buyer.

Despite Nike’s effective crisis strategy, many multinational corporations continue to scour the globe in search of cost-effective manufacturing operations. Much of this manufacturing is in countries where basic legal protections for workers are non-existent and union organising is prohibited or discouraged. Hundreds of thousands of workers, typically women and children, endure substandard working conditions ranging from inadequate wages to inhumane hours to life-threatening hazards in the workplace. I am not only referring to the obvious targets, but household names.

There is no bigger and more widely recognised brands on the planet than the leading FMCG beverage brands. Not only do these brands lead in the iconic brand wars, they also lead in the abuse of workers rights, union related assassinations, water privatisation and worker discrimination. Yep, the brands that promise to enhance lifestyle are said to have impaired many lives in many ways in many countries.

Columbia reports eight union officials killed in the last 15 years for protesting one of these giant FMCG’s labour practices. In Turkey, truck drivers and their families were apparently beaten severely by Turkish police hired by an FMCG company, while protesting a lay-off of 1000 workers from a local manufacturing plant in 2005.

In India, a large FMCG beverage brand allegedly destroyed local agriculture by privatising the countrys water resources. It is reported that the company extracted 1.5 million litres of deep well water, which it bottled and sold under commercial brand names. The groundwater was severely depleted, affecting thousands of communities with water shortages and destroying agricultural activity. As a result, the remaining water became contaminated with high chloride and bacteria levels, leading to scabs, eye problems and stomach aches in the local population.

Wow, you say, next I will tell you that by marketing lollies and chocolate you are endorsing child slavery. Ah… correct. One of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers is accused of engaging in illegal child slave labour predominantly in the international blind spot called Africa.

On that note, if you market chocolate or confectionery, I would investigate where your cocoa comes from. More than 40 percent of the worlds cocoa supply comes from the Ivory Coast, a country that the US State Department estimates had approximately 110,000 child labourers working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in whats been described as the worst form of child labour.

While we are on Africa, anyone involved in the marketing of pharmaceuticals in Australia could be very shocked to learn of their company’s behaviour and practices in the most disease-prone continent on the planet. Despite drug companies reporting annual revenues of over $30 billion, almost all refuse to grant generic licences for HIV/AIDS drugs to countries like Brazil, South Africa and the Dominican Republic – countries where patients are forced to pay $20 per week for drugs while the average national wage is only $30 a week.

How could ‘big pharma’ defend this? “Ah… our shareholders are looking for a significant return and we are striving to deliver this.” Even if it means killing people who would live if you shared your patent with the local generic organisations? This is just another example of appalling ethical behaviour from brand giants.

If you work for a pharmaceutical company directly, promote their products as a supplier (advertising, PR etc.), you may feel less passionate about launching that product or winning that pitch if you knew that by doing so you may be strengthening unethical and inhumane practices… I hope.

Degeneration of society and human degradation

Video games turn 35-years-old in 2007. The industry that started with Pong has become a multibillion dollar worldwide industry. Much of the industry successes have resulted from technological advances that have made the gaming experience more realistic and interactive. While this is a wonderful development in learning-based and pro-social (helping and team-based) games, the popularity of violent video games are believed by most behavioural experts to be a serious step backwards in the developmental progression of the teenage human.

Anyone involved in the marketing and promotion of interactive violent games and media should be aware that both are significantly associated with increased aggressive behaviour, thoughts, and effect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social behaviour.

According to Craig A Anderson, PhD in psychology from Stanford University and professor and chair of the Department of Psychology Iowa State University, relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques show that high levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behaviour.

Meta-analyses reveal that violent video game effect sizes are larger than the effect of second-hand tobacco smoke on lung cancer, the effect of lead exposure to IQ scores in children, and calcium intake on bone mass. Furthermore, the fact that so many youths are exposed to such high levels of video game violence further increases the societal costs of this risk factor.

Sixty-four percent of Australian children now play computer or video games on a regular basis. Children between the ages of seven and 17 play for an average of six hours a week. The Australian and American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Paediatrics, and the American Medical Association have all concluded that the scientific evidence shows a cause-effect relationship between television violence and aggression among the children and youth who watch it.

It makes sense that conditioning a mind with regular reward and recognition for realistic acts of blood-drenched violence will result in some form of deviated, maladapted consciousness.

In addition, lifestyle diseases like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension will be big news in 30 years when the children of the gaming generation reach middle age and start dropping dead from a sedentary, couch-potato-like existence which encouraged them to run, jump and play on a screen instead of in a park.

What now?

So what is the point of all this devastating information? What can you do as a marketer to change the devastating state of play that is the back-end of many products on the shelves today?

  1. Investigate the manufacturing processes that are involved in making your product. If you are ethically challenged by the organisation’s practices, enquire as to why things are as they are. Involve as many colleagues as you can in the investigation. Awareness can be powerful.
  2. Investigate your own motivation. Are you comfortable knowing that by growing your market, you are directly influencing the extent and degree of suffering experienced by people, animals or society in general? If not, resign publicly stating the ethical issues that have motivated your action. As Gandhi once suggested, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
  3. Remind yourself that the world is heavily influenced by affluent societies like ours. Newton’s third law suggest that we encourage people to take action; we should investigate what reaction will ensue.
  4. Find your third eye, read the Torah, chant with the Hare Krishna or do whatever you need to in order to realise that you are alive once only (unless you are Buddhist). Do you really want to be spending your valuable time encouraging people to buy things that have come to the market via pain and suffering?

As a marketer you have an enormous social responsibility both locally and internationally. Your talents and efforts determine consumer choice and brand equity. This week spend 20 minutes investigating how you feel about your organisation’s production and manufacturing practices. You may just find that some things are more important than the badge on your car.


All statistics used in this article have been verified. I have, however, refrained from using brand names for legal reasons. The organisations responsible for these unethical actions pay millions each year to keep these issues out of the public eye.


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