Marketing revolves around gathering information about customers and promote products and services, effectively convincing the general populace that some goods are better than others. There are numerous ethical dilemmas associated with all five types of marketing, as it is heavily influenced by consumerism and the attempts to make money at all costs. This research evaluated customer perceptions of the ethical side of the market. According to the results, nearly all marketing types were considered unethical to some degree or measure. Most customers seem to accept marketing research while demonstrating a unanimous dislike towards direct marketing, describing it as bothersome, forceful, annoying, and unethical. The root of these opinions comes from misunderstanding marketing paradigms. Education of the populace about the intents and purposes of marketing strategies would make them more predisposed to the practice.
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Marketing constitutes a set of practices that are used to extract information about customers, focus sales, generate revenue, claim additional market share, and increasing brand exposure. Companies and businesses have different marketing approaches, but nearly all of them involve voluntary or involuntary interaction with the customer. As a practice that limits customer autonomy, enforces stereotypes, and invades privacy, marketing has plenty of ethical issues to contend with. At the same time, customers are aware of what marketing is and its necessity to businesses. Nevertheless, customer perception of marketing ethics differs from one tool to another, as some are considered ethically acceptable, while others are not. These perceptions affect the effectiveness of marketing, as those viewed negatively are likely to generate a negative impression of a company using them. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate customer perceptions of ethics in popular marketing practices.
Sociologists and marketing researchers do not have a conclusive opinion on whether or not marketing is inherently unethical. Some argue that marketing is evil as it damages the personal autonomy of the customer, causes harm to competing for products, and manipulates social values, turning value-based perspectives into those based on materialism (Tong, Zheng, & Zhao, 2013). While the over-reaching claim is disputed, it is clear that most areas of marketing have certain ethical issues associated with them.
Marketing research, for example, is connected to the invasion of customer privacy, the marketing audience excludes and disenfranchises certain groups from buying products, while using peer pressure to enforce goods on vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly (Eagle & Dahl, 2015). Marketing based on price often leads to price wars and unfair competition practices to remove the competition from the market (Eagle & Dahl, 2015). Using ethics in marketing by engaging in corporate social responsibility, advocacy, and other means of proving the company to be trustworthy also borders the ethical issue of honesty in marketing, where good intentions are motivated by self-serving reasons. Lastly, direct marketing is arguably the most controversial of all marketing practices, as it involves not only invading a person’s privacy but also potentially forcing them to purchase something they do not need (Eagle & Dahl, 2015).
The proposed research follows a qualitative design using one-on-one interviews as means of assembling data (Silverman, 2016). Information was analyzed using a narrative framework, which was an excellent method for structuring complex qualitative data received from various sources, such as literature reviews, interviews, and surveys (Silverman, 2016). The interview itself included a series of open-ended questions referring to each major part of marketing ethics. Examples of questions are as follows:
- How do you feel about companies collecting your data to learn of your preferences and purchasing behaviors? Why?
- How do you feel about companies advertising certain goods to their stereotypical audiences? Why?
- What do you think about companies reducing prices to remove potential competition? How do you think it affects you as a consumer in the long run?
- Do you think companies should engage in corporate social responsibility and take stances on various ethical issues?
- What are your thoughts on salespeople, cold calls, and direct marketing practices?
These questions helped analyze the attitudes of the average customers towards different marketing practices and ethical issues surrounding them and help discover the perceived ethical value of these practices.
The research utilized convenience sampling methods as well as snowball sampling to acquire a decent sample size to conduct interviews (Gottlieb, 2018). To be eligible for participating in the study, candidates had to be 18 years or older. Although there were no other hard requirements, the researchers strove to recruit equal numbers of men and women while involving representatives from all major population subgroups based on age, race, and purchasing power. The number of respondents for this study was estimated to be 20-30 individuals. As a result, the sample was considered heterogeneous and diverse enough to make up for the inherent biases associated with convenience sampling and qualitative studies in general (Gottlieb, 2018).
The research was conducted in the college and the surrounding community to involve a greater number of participants from all walks of life. We managed to interview 25 individuals, out of which 13 were female and 12 were male. The division of participants by age group was as follows:
- 18-29 years of age: 17 respondents;
- 30-59 years of age: 5 respondents;
- Over 60 years of age: 3 respondents.
Out of the entire response group, 13 individuals were white, 7 were black and 5 were Asian or Hispanic. All respondents were asked to complete the survey either by answering questions in person or mailing their answers by post or through e-mail. Those who chose to answer it by mail were given 7 days to articulate their answers. By the end of the week, all 25 interviews were completed, enabling us to start the analysis. All interviewees were granted full anonymity to protect their privacy, as per the agreement signed by each of the respondents.
Data Dissemination and Analysis
Since the research used a narrative analysis, each of the responses recorded during the interviews or received through e-mails was individually disseminated and analyzed using the fragmentation method, where each answer was grouped in clusters according to the general interpretation of the answer, its points, and its opinions (De Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2019). The five main clusters constituted answers to each question, which were later divided into subgroups based on the perceptions of the respondents towards the subject. Each cluster had three subgroups: Positive, Negative, and Neutral. It helped evaluate and understand the statistical significance of each response in the greater scope of the matter.
Evaluation and Discussion
The evaluation of the findings indicated a strong negative perception of nearly all practices associated with marketing among the general population. The majority of individuals (18 out of 25) saw marketing as unethical and invasive on numerous levels, with every question answered negatively. However, the severity of negative perceptions differed from one person to another. It also depended on the question and type of marketing: Marketing research was considered the most consistently annoying among most of the respondents, but at the same time they were the most open to disclosing certain aspects of their data, so long as it was collected discretely and did not require them to undergo annoying and tedious questionnaires. Direct marketing received the most ire, as every respondent found them to be forceful and unethical with their practices and information they received as the result (such as phone numbers). The majority of interviewees responded negatively or neutrally towards the use of ethics in marketing, seeing these efforts as disingenuous. Price marketing was viewed as ethically neutral, as the majority of respondents saw the competition as beneficial to themselves.
Findings, Suggestions, Conclusions, and Future Work
Based on the evaluation above, it could be concluded that marketing is viewed as unethical by the majority of respondents regardless of what type of marketing it is. When analyzing the questions, respondents appeared to be using values ethics or utilitarian ethics, with the centerpiece matter being their interests and rights. At the same time, the majority of respondents showed a lack of understanding of the true purposes of marketing beyond “swindling customers out of their money.” The reason why marketing, despite being unethical in the eyes of the customers, is endured resides in the fact that most customers see it as an inescapable or a necessary evil. To increase the effectiveness of marketing, it is suggested to inform the customers of the intents and purposes of the effort to buy credibility and cooperation. Future work on the subject should include a greater number of respondents from different areas, to create a more consistent view on the subject.
De Fina, A., & Georgakopoulou, A. (2019). The handbook of narrative analysis. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Eagle, L., & Dahl, S. (Eds.). (2015). Marketing ethics & society. New York, NY: Sage.
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Gottlieb, J. (2018). Understanding active sampling strategies: Empirical approaches and implications for attention and decision research. Cortex, 102, 150-160.
Silverman, D. (Ed.). (2016). Qualitative research. New York, NY: Sage.
Tong, L., Zheng, Y., & Zhao, P. (2013). Is money really the root of all evil? The impact of priming money on consumer choice. Marketing Letters, 24(2), 119-129.