Marketing ethics is a broad-ranging topic, which should be seen as a subset of business ethics. Here we will deal with the particulars of business and marketing ethics pertaining to B2B.
Marketing ethics in B2B
Business ethics is about establishing ethical standards to distinguish what should and should not be done in the business world.
The aim of marketing (as a discipline) is to study the expectations and needs of buyers, to create products and services adapted to these expectations and needs, to implement a communication and distribution strategy around these offers and to measure the level of customer satisfaction.
As such, marketing ethics touches on communication (avoid misleading or deceptive advertising*), sales (ban any form of inaccurate product information, prohibit misleading information…), pricing (avoid dominant positions, do not engage in cartels between suppliers…), collection and use of personal data, etc.
* i.e. the voluntary omission of information which the company is legally obliged to provide*
There are several marketing codes of conduct available depending on the country and discipline. With regard to social media, the socialmedia.org disclosure kit prevailed in the USA for the 2010-2015 period. It was retired in 2015 as the FTC adopted a new code of conduct and enforced it across the board.
The FTC code of conduct is named “Guides Concerning the Use of
Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising Federal Acquisition Regulation; Final Rule“, it encompasses way more than just social media and aims at establishing transparency and trust throughout advertising and endorsement practices, including social media.
In the United Kingdom, The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has published a list, although a non-comprehensive one, of the main available codes of ethics in our profession on its Website.
The French counterpart of CIM, Adetem, has published an ethical charter, which requires from its members (marketing professionals) to carry out actions that respect the following rules:
- Do not intentionally harm others: a fundamental rule of professional ethics;
- Comply with the various laws and regulations in force, as well as with the professional codes of reference ;
- Respect the right to privacy, the right of ownership and the right of access to confidential information ;
Adetem’s charter also requires its signatories to ensure that their marketing approach respects the adequacy between the products offered on the one hand and their announced functions, on the other hand, making sure that they bring real value to customers.
According to American researcher Edward J. O’Boyle, two main obstacles are blocking the way to ethically correct conduct in marketing: ignorance and conflict. He quotes the code of ethics of the American Marketing Association.
According to him, ignorance raises the question:
“What is the ethical way forward,” while conflict asks: “What price am I willing to pay to follow this path”? “These two questions differentiate between knowing the moral good and knowing how to do it and demonstrate that ethical decision-making resides in both the human intellect and the human will” [source].
In addition to that, for many years now, marketing techniques based on behavioural economics have been developing, which take advantage of buyers’ cognitive biases.
In contrast with traditional marketing, which maintains that the buyer makes decisions on rational grounds, these marketing operations, also known as “nudge” type operations, study (and exploit) the cognitive biases that “short-circuit” this rationality. Among these decision-biases are the social norm, the logics of reciprocity, gratification, default choice.
Marketing operations of the “nudge” type are often criticised because they question the free will of the buyer, appealing primarily to the automatic cognitive system of buyers to the detriment of their reflexive cognitive system.
Nudge marketing operations are also criticised for going against the buyer’s well-being.
Additional links and resources
- Data ethics: don’t leave AI and Big Data in the hands of experts
- Is data science compatible with ethics?
- Research on the American Marketing Association Code of Ethics