Ethics and Marketing


Ethics is an individual’s understanding of the difference between “right” and “wrong.” In the business world, ethics play a key role in determining the success of a company. Engaging in unethical behavior leads to the demise of many companies  as it did for giants like Enron and WorldCom. Throughout the process of getting my business degree, I have been exposed to ethics on multiple occasions. Business students are now required to take courses that focus directly on ethics and most classes touch on the subject even if they are based on another subject. For example, my Fundamentals of Marketing class is not ethics based, but we are still exposed to ethics in the means of ethical marketing.


In order for a company to be successful it must be sustainable, meaning that it has the ability to be around for a long time and can depend upon its resources in the future. One way to ensure a sustainable company is to promote the use of ethical marketing. Ethical marketing ensures long term benefits from not only the company, but for the consumers of the company as well. As the communicators between a company and the consumers, marketers often face many decisions that make them question their own morals. One of the most simple ways to exemplify unethical marketing tactics is through false advertising. False advertising occurs when a company advertises their product or service to provide benefits that will not and cannot be achieved. One of the most commonly used forms of false advertising is the way in which fast food restaurants display their products.

Any consumer who has been to a fast food restaurant has seen the effects of false advertising and been disappointed that their food did not look like the pictures on the menus or commercials. Although fast food establishments like McDonald’s are not lying to customers about the ingredients used in their food choices, they are falsely advertising the appearance of the items. The pictures convey a level of excellence by the images they are putting out there for customers; the products sold and consumed are not of the same level.


Although most ethical decisions are made on the judgment of the individuals in charge of the action, higher executives have the authority to set ground rules for ethics. According to Kotler and Armstrong in the provided marketing text book, “the American Marketing Association, an international association of marketing managers and scholars, developed a code of ethics that calls on marketers to adopt ethical norms” (p. 603). I have compiled the norms into the graphic below:

Ethical Norms Funnel Graphic

Ethical Norms Funnel Graphic

  • Do no harm: This element of ethical marketing means that marketers are not allowed to knowingly cause hurt or harm to consumers through the marketing practices they use. Marketers must follow the known laws and regulations that are enacted to keep consumers safe.
  • Foster trust: This element of the funnel places the responsibility of creating a trust worthy and reliable reputation on the aspect of marketing. It is in the hands of the marketers that consumers can decide whether they trust or fear marketers.
  • Embrace ethical values: Finally, the values that a marketer embodies are the values that will allow the consumer to connect with the company or product. Consumers will form long lasting and strong relationships with the companies that promote similar ethical values to the ones the consumer values in their own life.


Everyday, people are exposed to tough decisions that involve ethics. As a future business woman, it is important that I prepare myself with a strong set of ethical values that will follow mw throughout my career. One of the determinants of the ethical basis I am forming is my Business 300 class, that is a class that allows its students to be exposed to ethical case study dilemmas and make their own decisions. While completing most assignment for this class I often find myself incorporating vocabulary terms from my other courses, like the utilitarian theory of ethics. I am a believer in the utilitarian theory which promotes people who make ethical decisions based on promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Every aspect of business relies on the ethical decisions of the people in the business. As one of my previous professors, Professor William Meyer, nailed into my head from the first day of class, “ethical decisions create a trickle down, or snowball, effect within a company. One small unethical decision in a company or individual leads to an uncontrollable growth of unethical behavior that is hard to stop.” One small act of false advertisement has the ability to destroy customer relationships and has a largely negative impact on the marketing of a company.


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