The Ethics in Marketing

How many times to do I hear the reply “so, you send spam?” Pretty much a quarter of the time I tell the audience-at-large that I do email marketing. About 5% of the time someone launches into a “you are making the world worse” tirade. After which, with about 50% success rate, I convince them that we are actually saving the world, and that it is really greed and the American Capitalism that is to blame.

As does any profession, marketing has a strong ethical component to it. It is a tool of discovering and satisfying people’s wants and needs, but which wants and needs do we satisfy and how do we satisfy them? The ones convenient for us, in a manner most cheap and reliable. The need for self fulfillment and self actualization? Have some crackers.

In the heartless hands of evil bastards, marketing will make society worse, guaranteed. It will encourage the masses to make ill choices for the benefit of others. No self-respecting dictator has survived any significant length of time without a team of skillful marketers by his side, colloquially called his propaganda department. Same can be said about many western presidents, working in tandem with the mass-media.

If we are to make the world better, we must have ethics in marketing. The cause has to be good, and the means just. But it is hard to make the right choices when given a number goal. And too many times, that’s all we get, a narrow number goal. That we either meet, or we don’t. With consequences. And so we miss the context, the big picture. There is no benefit to being good, just a risk of liability if you step way out of line. We got to sell those crackers, and so we overstep, but just by a little. And littles accumulate over time. Society decays.

So as it happens, we can’t have ethics in marketing unless we have a moral society. The water has to be pure for fish to swim in it and for the frogs to disappear. The society has to demand education and not crackers. Hence the best thing a doubting marketer should do is A) Get some morals himself and B) Work to bring more morals to the world. If society indeed demands good, moral choices, marketing is invaluable to making them happen. People’s wish is granted, so they say.

There we go, we have reduced the problem of “marketing is making the world worse” to “marketing is doing what it is asked, society has got to be moral”. The greed and American Capitalism is indeed to blame.

Lastly, if you start with an immoral society, what to do? I have no freaking idea. But the few morals we have left, let’s fight to keep.

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