Ethical Issues in Marketing

Robert Grice's image for:
"Ethical Issues in Marketing"
Image by: 


Every business relies on marketing to attract customers and to sell products or services. The problem is that marketing can sometimes promote products or services in unethical ways. What can businesses do to follow ethical standards in their marketing strategies? What are the top 5 ethical issues in marketing?


The news of corporate scandals seems to be a daily occurrence. Consumers have lost trust in the integrity in many corporations because of the unethical and sometimes illegal behavior that seems to be embraced in the organizational culture of the corporation.

Companies need to realize that company reputation is part of the honesty factor. People seek alternatives when they know a business engages in unethical practices. The claims of “sweat shop” assembly lines has forced more than one company to change its supply chain policies simply because of the damage to brand that resulted from unethical behavior. 

Another important facet of honesty is an accurate representation of the product. People want to know they are receiving the quality of product that was presented to them through marketing. Promises made should be promises honored. A return policy is a necessary component in fostering honesty in marketing. 


Fairness is the need to balance the interests of the company with the needs of the customers. That is, companies want to sell more products in order to increase profits. Fairness is conveyed in recognizing that customers want to feel they are engaging in a transaction that will result in them receiving something of value.

Value is associated with the product and with the quality of customer service. Fairness is the company treating the customer in a business to consumer transaction the same way it would want to be treated in a business to business transaction. The long term benefit of fairness is customer loyalty.


Customers want to know they are respected by the company. Respect means the company sees the value of stakeholders. Groups are not subjected to stereotypes and tolerance is demonstrated for the interests and values of others.

Respect means that feedback from stakeholders is welcomed and heard. The long term benefit of respect is the company positive association with company that should foster company and brand loyalty.


Social responsibility is the recognition that a company must do no harm to individuals and the community. Companies incur a trust that they will operate in such a manner as to protect the welfare of the customer. Dangerous products or lapses in safety can quickly erode confidence and trust in a company. 

Companies have a responsibility to “give back” to the community. Part of this marketing strategy is to convey the idea that the company is a neighbor. The company cares about the quality of life of its “neighbors” in the community at large.

One way to do this is by responding to the interests of non-customer stakeholders such as through supporting local education, sponsoring environmental awareness projects, and assisting in community enrichment efforts.


Transparency means the marketing strategy conveys honesty about the operations of the business. A company is practicing transparency when it admits to and corrects operational problems or areas of stakeholder concern.

Transparency in marketing means the company is honest about a product’s limitations. The recall policy of the automobile industry is a great example of transparency. Car companies issue recall notices to acknowledge design or mechanical flaws in automobiles.

Granted, failure to do so would bring down the wrath of the federal government as this would constitute a violation of national safety standards. When voluntary, the practice of recognizes weaknesses and then seeking to correct the problem conveys the company recognizes its commitment to the customer. The long term benefit is trust.  


Marketing involves more than the promotion of a product or service. Marketing includes the promotion of a company. All five issues cited in the paper work together to create the marketing image of the company. Unethical behavior will destroy the reputation and ethical image of a company.

More about this author: Robert Grice

From Around the Web