Friday, October 12, 2012

The ethics of marketing

Marketing has ethics? Who knew?

This video sparked an internal conversation here by the shore.

As a marketer I have a responsibility to sell my clients' products. I also have a responsibility as a member of a society to do that within all the laws and accepted mores of that society.

I have worked for Pepsi, developing and positioning new products that meet consumer desires and help the company increase their sales. Some of the products have been sugary. Others have been healthy.

Enjoying the occasional soft drink won't kill you. Drinking three or four a day is probably not a good idea.

But as a marketer, how much of the responsibility do I bear for those who choose to use a product in an unhealthy, unsafe or irresponsible manner?

My personal opinion. Very little.

As a marketer it's my job to develop and sell a safe, enjoyable, reliable product: be it cars, soda, beer, gaming, cheese, health care, sporting goods, whatever.

As a consumer it's your job to educate yourself about the proper use of the product.

I'm not going to hide anything from you. I'm not going to use unethical tactics to encourage the improper or over use of any of my clients' products.

Groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have the right to provide people with all the information they feel is necessary to make smart choices about the products they consume.

That's the way the system works.

So good for CSPI for developing a campaign that they think will help people live healthier lives.

As for me, I'll keep working to sell whatever my clients need me to.

Except tobacco.


  1. Marketers have a moral obligation not to portray unrealistic usage, especially use that will kill you. ("Professional driver on closed course" comes to mind.) But as we both know, its only a moral obligation, not a legal one. Marketers are in the business of persuasion, not framing the greater moral compass, so it comes down to individual values. You can use your skills for good, or use them for evil; it's your call. I've turned away tobacco clients, and I sleep better for it.

    1. Thanks Stephen. I agree with you. And I know there are many others who feel differently. One has to only look at this year's crop of political ads to see that.

      That having been said, I've always felt an obligation to tell the truth and present products realistically - though creatively.

      And like you, I've slept better for it.