Marketing has been defined both in the social, economic and managerial perspective. Stone and Desmond (2007, pp. 47-48) point out that marketing is not just about selling, but it involves satisfying the needs of consumers. Therefore, the aim of marketing is to identify and comprehend the desires and needs of the consumer, so that the products/services suit individual consumers. Kurtz and Mackenzie (2009), furthers states that marketing is a comprehensive system (philosophy) of business which states that, the consumer’s wants and satisfaction are the economic and social justification for any firms existence.

Ethics has been defined as a collection of principles of right conduct that shape organizational decisions. In marketing, ethics means the application of fairness, applying the right moral codes in doing business, and using appropriate behavior in making marketing decisions. In a market scenario, ethics plays a vital role in achieving a competitive advantage over competitors. According to Baker (2005) organizations that apply their ethical codes in an appropriate manner, are more likely to gain a competitive advantage and meet the desires of consumers and those of the organization.

As the marketing environment has become competitive in meeting the dynamic demands of the consumers, the focus among market players has shifted from providing products to organizations adhering to ethical values. Research suggests that customers are more likely to develop a positive attitude towards those firms that up hold ethical principles in their businesses (Venkatesan & Losco, 2004, p.52). In addition, customers are more likely to buy their products and consume their services. Furthermore, when organizations practice ethical standards that are acceptable by the society, the firm’s marketing process is more likely to become efficient. However, if a firm disregards the application of ethics in marketing, it will receive negative publicity, loss of confidence among consumers or even face a legal action in court.

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Principles of Ethical Marketing

Taking responsibility: as a rule of the thumb, marketers must take responsibility of their products and services when making decisions. A responsible marketing firm does not wait to respond to a crisis about its products, but should always be accountable and ready to respond to the customers’ needs.

Fair dealings: when it comes to dealing with all its stakeholders, marketers must be ethical, honest, fair and just in forming relationships. For example, when marketers are developing contracts both for implicit or formal purposes, they must do so in genuine faith and nobility. In terms of products and services, marketers must ensure that their products are suitable for consumption and accurately presented without any false information.

Respect for consumer rights: Any marketer or marketing firm that wants to succeed must put its customers’ first by respecting their rights and concerns. Respect for consumer rights includes the right to privacy, right to information and the right of redress.  Kotler (2010, pp 67-68) contends that marketing ethics should give prominence to susceptible customers such as the aged and children by safeguarding their rights and interests.

Deceptive or Unethical Marketing Practices

Since marketing is a competitive aspect of business, most organizations always engage in unfair or deceptive marketing practices. Kurtz & Mackenzie (2009) concede that deceptive marketing occurs, when consumers are duped into believing that they will get more value from a service or a product so that they make a purchase. Deception or unfair ethics in marketing occurs in many forms such as through misrepresentation, misleading or omitting an essential element in the marketing mix when dealing with the consumer. However, due to the wide array of information that customers’ accesses before making a purchase, more often they become skeptical of marketing gimmicks, and protect themselves against deception. As a result, consumers keep on changing their taste and preferences once they discover that a product does not provide the expected value.

Deceptive marketing is a gimmick that many firms use to attract customers to buy their products and services. With regards to the four P’s of the marketing mix i.e., deceptive marketing is generally engrossed in the concept of price and promotion. In terms of pricing, it may take many forms such as making extraordinarily low price offers, making false comparisons, omitting vital information on sale and providing misleading selling prices. In terms of promotion, deceptive marketing occurs when a seller deliberately employs a bait-and-switch selling strategy to sell a product, or when they intentionally fail to disclose vital information about the performance of a product (Venkatesan & Losco, 2004, pp.65-71).

Moral advertising in marketing

Most organizations in the marketing industry today make use of advertisements in selling their products and appealing to the consumer. Advertising is an extremely crucial element in marketing because it communicates a lot of information to customers. For example, through advertisements, consumers learn on how to have the image of a model, and how to buy love, happiness and success. Since, advertisements have the liability of enlightening consumers, the issue of ethics and morality in marketing comes up.

According to Stone, M & Desmond (2007) the key concerns in moral advertising include; advertising of alcoholic drinks and tobacco, ethical stereotyping, dishonesty in advertising and advertising to children. Unlike adults who have a lot of information on products and services, children are more vulnerable to media gimmicks and unethical marketing strategies from marketers. Research studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between alcohol and tobacco consumption among young people with marketing tactics. Psychologists have linked this to the fact that children are easily appealed by strong images in advertisements. In regard to this, questions have been asked regarding the moral and ethical conduct of marketers who intentionally exposure messages to the youth. In some of the developed countries, there has been an increased pressure by the civil society and other independent organizations to regulate the marketing of those products directly affect children.

Another ethical concern that marketers need to address is the application of the internet in promoting of their products. There has been a growing concern among law regulators that some marketers purposely design whereby children have the potential to bypass adult supervision. In addition, such marketing websites display immoral content to underage children and persuade them to purchase products via credit cards (Baker, 2005, pp.236-245). However, in the recent past, countries like the United States have set regulations in closely monitor activities of such dishonest marketing firms. For example, in the United States the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission closely monitor marketing activities and provide clear ethical guidelines to marketers.

Ethical issues in portraying women as marketing tools

The need for advertisement inconsiderately compromises the rights of women to privacy. For example, through marketing advertisements, women exposure of their sexuality since they are used as objects of sexual attraction in public commercials. Baker (2005) observes that, little has been done to eliminate the portrayal of young and beautiful women as sexual objects and as means of creating a sense of appeal and persuasion that a product or service is best for the consumer.

Application of ethical marketing: A case study of Philip Morris Inc.

Many of us would probably memorize a famous cigarette promotion that was developed by Philip Morris Inc in the 1960’s. This advertisement has a picture of a bold looking cow boy who was riding on a horse, the “Marlboro man”. In the advertisement, the Marlboro Man was used to illustrate and convince customers that, after they consume the Marlboro cigarette, they will have the power of a horse and have the potential to ride on the top most mountains. However, it was a requirement that the Marlboro man was supposed to smoke at least five packets of the cigarette when the advertisement was being printed so that it could entice more to consumers. Unfortunately, it is documented that the Marlboro man finally lost his life as a result of lung cancer. His wife went to court to sue the company for damages and wrongful death of her husband, since she believed that the cigarettes that he smoked to promote the commercial were the main cause of his death.


Ethical marketing is a field in which each consumer needs to take a stand to avoid the influence from unethical marketers. In the example mentioned above, it is quite ironical that the Marlboro man died out of the product (cigarettes) that he was marketing. This is a clear case in point that marketers use unethical means to make profits in total disregard of the consumers. As a result of many unethical marketing gimmicks that marketers use to appeal to customers, it is of paramount importance that consumers need to take a firm stand and choose between what is right and what is wrong. In addition, when making marketing choices, consumers should have the potential to rationalize among competing brands and be vigilant on any malpractices. Towards this end, it is recommendable that marketers exercise caution particularly in consideration of the long run effect of their marketing ethics.

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