This faced with an ethical marketing decision.

This
essay reviews the role of ethics in marketing in a bid to determine best
practice for decision making in digital marketing, with particular reference to
the ethical issues that arise when considering Display and Audience Network
digital advertising.

Beginning
with a literature review on prevalent research into the theoretical processes
around making ethical marketing decisions from both external and internal
influences, the essay reiterates the main theme among the reviewed literature
that is the remaining difficulty still in current practice in arriving at a solid
foundation for ethical considerations in marketing.

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Identifying
that there although there are gaps in each theory and there seems to be no
correct or incorrect method of considerations for decision making, it is
proposed to review and address each theory when faced with an ethical marketing
decision. The ability to benchmark each theory against a marketing decision
would offer greater perspective in arriving at the most ethically sound option.

Marketing decisions are not as straight forward black and white as they once
were, and there seems to be a gap in literature to support current ethical
marketing practice.

 

 

 

Ethics
in business and subsequently marketing was generated from demand by consumers
and the market, rather than the businesses themselves. An example of this is
the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission that was demanded by the
public in a bid to regulate comparative advertising and promote consumer
protection (Petty
2015). The subject of “Ethics” is complex
and in a constant state of evolution. Bartels
(1967) asks, can marketing actions ever
be holistically ethical or is the status of ethicality relative to circumstances,
place and time. Sticking to a universal code or status quo with marketing
ethics means knowing and understanding such a code, but what must be considered
is who makes such a code and what happens if that specific code or status quo
turns out not to be ethically sound in the eyes of another stakeholder, is that
ethical status immediately invalid?

                                                                                                                          

For
example, in the area of international marketing, how could you segregate what
is ethically sound in one country and not sound in another, when migration and multicultural
societies are now more prominent than ever. Questions around marketing ethics go
as broad as how a marketer could justify segregating between a set of ethical
standards for one stakeholder to another. How ethically sound is it to treat
one human with one set of values differently to another human with another set
of values. The difficulty is determining who sets those values, who those
values serve and the rationale behind such values.

 

Robin
and Reidenbach (1987) shed light on the expectations
that now all stakeholders have for a business and that organizations are now
under tremendous scrutiny to direct their focus on more than just the bottom
line of revenue and cost cutting, debating that businesses owe consumers and
the market equal respect for being arguably their most important stakeholder in
any business. Consumers are demanding virtue and transparency from corporations
and these demands can be seen in the practice of marketing ethics. The role of
the market and the marketer has evolved with the creation of Web 2.0. Not only
is the landscape of communication now open, as opposed to mass-marketing one-way
communication with consumers in the past, but the consumers have now developed
a position of power where they once had not and they have their own demands for
ethical marketing.

 

Much
like , Tsalikis
and Fritzsche (1989) reiterate the new and renewed
ethical concern that has enveloped the consumer market. As the ethical
landscape has changed, the once black and white areas have become easier to
abide by or to get right, however it is the grey area that is increasing in
both volume and complexity and this grey area is where most hiccups are being made.

The idea of an “Ethics Gap” stems from Shelby
D. Hunt and Scott J. Vitell (2006) where marketers and members of
society or the market share a different set of ethics and ethical frameworks. An
interesting perspective is that marketers and consumers will always hold
different ethical standards, as they both have different stakeholders in focus.

 

 

 

The
study determines that ethical theories cannot be formed alone through reviews
of existing literature, they will always be relative to your market. They argue
that a true test of an ethical theory is through practice, implementation and
testing with your macro environment. Judgements cannot be made on its success
simply by how it was initially constructed in the first place. This means that
while literature can provide a direction and a solid foundation for ethical
considerations and frameworks, they cannot be sound theories unless they have
been proven.

 

The
evaluation of The General Theory of Marketing Ethics model (Shelby
D. Hunt and Scott Vitell 1986) concluded that the subject of
marketing ethics remains no closer to reaching a set of universal standard
marketing ethics guidelines. Questions around the issues grow increasingly
in-depth and it is virtually impossible to determine the end point when you
begin ethical considerations. Brennan
(1993) considers that the “rule of thumb”
is no longer viable to protect the reputation or ethical considerations of a
corporation. Brennan argues that there must be an entirely diverse model
required.

 

There
are a number of complex types of theories in ethics, each one offers a
distinctive approach to decision making. Normative is based on “norms” and focuses
on the moral aspect of the action, for instance how a marketing decision should
be made, based on societal or ethical norms (Laczniak
and Murphy 2006). Teleological stems from the same
moral focus but this theory is based solely on the outcomes of the actions,
judging the moral consequences rather than the moral intentions. Utilitarianism
is a teleological or consequentialist theory that takes into consideration both
moral input and moral outcomes of the ethical marketing decision and makes a
judgement based on whether the ethical inputs and outcomes outweigh the
unethical inputs and outcomes (O.

C. Ferrell and Gresham 1985). Teleological theory is followed
closely by deontological or non-consequentialist theory, in that if the action
is immoral but the outcome is for a greater good then on a holistic level, it
can be deemed ethical and this is done through rational thought rather than
emotion (Bowen
2004).

 

Each
theory makes their own argument for justification, however, due to the fluidity
of the meaning of ethics to any one individual, in order to get the closest to
an ethical outcome and input, each theory and framework should be utilized
collectively in making ethical decisions.

 

It
could be assumed that Fake News relates to and impacts journalism and the
entire make up of media channels such as television, news, print and even
radio. However, that media landscape has evolved in the age of Web 2.0 where
the foundations of internet and digital age revolves around user generated
content, Fake News affects more industries than just current affairs and news
providers.

 

 

 

According
to Amarasingam
(2011), leading examples of Fake News are
the satirical current affairs shows that openly parody real news stories and
current events,  such as Saturday Night Live
and The Colbert Project. However, there are a number of questions posed against
such a statement.

It
is difficult to determine whether these examples qualify as fake news, as the television
programme openly promotes itself as a comedy sketch show that is most
well-known for its parodies on current affairs, politics and popular culture. Fake
News qualifies as fake news only if the end consumer is being intentionally
manipulated into believing that the messages and communication they are
receiving and decoding are of unbiased, objective trustworthy information disseminating
bodies or organisations (Gu,
Kropotov and Yarochkin 2017). Which could pose the question, is
all marketing and advertising literature fake news?

 

As
mentioned throughout the literature above, one theory is for the business or
corporation to take responsibility and ownership of the ethical issue and to
take it upon themselves to address it. Key stakeholders in the area of tackling
the ethical issues surrounding the digital marketing sphere and fake news are
Google.com and Facebook.com.

 

The
rise of digital advertising has offered companies the ability to engage
directly with their audience. Advertising platforms such as Google and Facebook
use custom built algorithms that automatically bid for and promote advertising
through their own platforms and their own “display networks” to targeted
consumers based on demographics, personal profiles and their activities on such
platforms.

 

While
highly successful for some marketers, it is a risk that marketers often take
too lightly. Being the top two digital advertising platforms in the market,
Google and Facebook have developed a level of trust within the advertising
community. However, there remain ethical issues for both these platforms and the
marketers using them.

 

Both
platforms pride themselves on their third-party networks, Google has “Display
Network” and Facebook has “Audience Network”. When making decisions on digital
advertising through both platforms, by unselecting the third party networks
your cost per conversion increases and your reach or audience decreases. In
some cases, Facebook does not allow you to advertise on the platform without
agreeing to be displayed through their Audience Network.

 

For
marketers, this brings with it a number of ethical issues to consider. Neither
Google nor Facebook disclose what platforms or mediums your advertisement will
be displayed. This means that the marketer is trusting Google and Facebook to
display their advertisements on ethically sound placements. However, these
placements are selected by through supervised machine learning and not with
human interaction. If the measurements taken to ensure authenticity and
ethicality are retrospective, which they are according to both platforms, this
leaves further risk with the marketer. Ethical marketing questions to consider
would be how long it takes for these platforms to discover that a third-party
network is publishing unethical content, fake news or hate speech, and how long
does it take until the damage to the brand reputation cannot be undone?

 

 

 

 

Most
recently, Vodafone have reviewed their ethical marketing policy and have
claimed their commitment along with their advertising platform suppliers
(Google and Facebook) will be taking measures in monitoring and preventing the
advertisement of Vodafone products or services within hate speech and fake news
outlets (Mitchell
2017).

 

Taking
up digital advertising market share, both Facebook and Google put marketers
under pressure to conform and agree to user their display and audience networks
in order to stay competitive and reach their customers. Theses advertisers are
risking their brands being published through outlets that are fundamentally at
odds with their company’s core beliefs and values while indirectly maintaining
funding for such unethical outlets.

 

Leaders
in paving the way to suit user needs and demands, both digital corporations
have invested in algorithms to track, identify and extract fake news
information from an online source. Not only do the APIs identify fake news,
these posts or sites are then downgraded or penalized for their misconduct. This
effort has been made in a bid to tackle one major negative effect of the scale
of fake news on consumers in losing trust in company’s and brands, thus
purchasing less, subsequently resulting in falling levels of user engagement on
such platforms. Although this is a step in the right direction for ethical
marketing, it most importantly also securing their long term financial growth.

 

The
phenomenal growth of Web 2.0 has brought with it both advantages and
disadvantages for marketers with regards to marketing ethics. There are a
number of issues regarding ethical marketing and fake news. One of the main
difficulties lies with the platforms or mediums that the digital marketing
content is being published on, rather than the message of the digital marketing
content itself. With Google and Facebook under fire in recent years over a
duopoly in digital advertising, all eyes are on the platforms from all
stakeholders, including advertisers and users.

 

As
mentioned above, both platforms have taken strides – albeit short ones – in
tackling the issue of Fake News. Google has developed an algorithm to determine
the efficacy of a news source and will brand the content and link with “Fake
News” so that the searcher is knowingly consenting to reading Fake News before
even clicking into the link itself to read. However, these measures are
reactive instead of proactive, meaning that the post has to be published,
indexed by Google, gain traction and to finally then be reviewed by the
platform.

 

Potentially,
damage would have already been done depending on the sheer volume of consumers
who would have already consumed the content before Google ranking it as Fake
News. Representatives from both platforms have gone on record to confirm that
the technology does exist to support a proactive strategy for tackling the
issue of fake news, however their main revenue generator, that is advertising,
runs the risk of taking a financial hit, and this is of more concern to the
companies than paving the way in new and demanded ethical standards.

 

 

 

Both
organisations have been open about developing initiatives to address the issue
of Fake News and misleading content for their users over the past number of
years and have been seen to be praised for taking such strides, however, these
strides are carefully calculated and it is arguable that such strides were
necessary as again mentioned regarding the evolution of power with the
consumer, consumers are taking power into their own hands against unethical
standards of such platforms. Less than 100 years ago advertisers were painted
with a brush of being dishonest, manipulative and untrustworthy. Advertisers
banded together to develop a collaborative organization to justify their profession
with integrity and ethical status (Schultze
1981).

 

Although
not directly creating the Fake News, Google is an enabler of the spread of Fake
News and the marketer buying the advertising space aside such Fake News is put
under scrutiny, should the ad placement be positioned amidst unethical content
or sources.

 

When
it comes to marketing ethics and applying a trusted theory of framework in
conducting marketing activities and tasks, is the marketing unethical if the
marketer is unaware of the unethical factor or nature of the task or activity? Examining
ethical/ unethical decision making is multidimensional, process oriented, and
contingent in nature” (O.C.

Ferrell and Gresham 1985). This is all well and good if your
brand hasn’t been published aside unethical sources. But is the Google
algorithm the correct judge of using reputable sources with regards to
marketing. How reputable is reputable – by who’s standards? Isn’t objectivity
virtually impossible?

 

A
digital marketer could be faced with the task of digital marketing an online
product, for example creating a brand awareness campaign for additional
fundraising support for a women’s refuge. The marketer has both limited
resources and limited budget, as it is partially state-funded non-profit
organization. The two current top grossing digital advertising platforms are
Google and Facebook, with an extensive audience network and invaluable data to accurately
target your customer base. However, in order to create a “Reach” advertising
campaign on the Facebook Ads Manager platform, you must agree to be displayed
in the Facebook Audience Network.

 

There
are a number of ethical issues with the Facebook Audience Network, the first
being that Facebook does not disclose any information about any of the
websites, their sources, their trustworthiness, integrity, authenticity or even
the content of the sites that displays Ads that are published through the
Audience Network.

 

 

 

The
marketer is now faced with a number of ethical questions.

 

 

If
we were to address the issue from a Deontological theory, in weighing out the “greater
goodness” of the outcome against the actions of the input.

We
could determine that:

Input:
Unethical risk of your ad being displayed through Fake News website that
promote insensitive content that could potentially be offensive in its
placement to the vulnerable users of the charity.

Output:
Potentially the best cost for reach in terms of brand awareness and could
potentially equate to a colossal number of donations and raising interest in
the charity.

 

 

Taking
teleological theory into consideration, the marketer must focus solely on the
potential moral consequences of the outcome.

Consequences:
Morally, the risk of endangering the vulnerable users who avail of the
charity’s services by having the charity associated with the potentially immoral
content of an insensitive Fake News story where the Ad has been placed through
the Audience Network.

 

 

“Absence
of a clear consensus about what is ethical conduct for marketing managers may
lead to deleterious results for business” (O.C.

Ferrell and Gresham 1985). Rather than set out specific
scenarios or steps, Ferrell and Gresham develop a contingency framework for the
ethical decision-making process in marketing that takes into consideration
variables such as personal background and socialization characteristics, that
include both external and internal employment influences.

 

 

The
framework aids in developing or bringing to light a self-awareness for the
decision maker that may positively influence the ethical or unethical decision
outcome. Possibly by identifying factors that are influencing the decision, the
decision maker will be more aware of their subjective views and may make a
conscious effort to strive for further objectivity when ethical decision making
for marketing.

 

There
is an identifiable “Ethics Gap” in the above scenario as there is no straight
forward answer to who the responsibility lies with. It is difficult to argue
the impact of one theory over another as, in agreement with the majority of
literature reviewed, no one answer is every the correct one. The level of ethics
is relative to each stakeholder and in a constant state of evolution. A
recommendation in this scenario would be to follow in the footsteps of
international telecoms company Vodafone in recommitting to their renewed
ethical marketing policies and allowing all stakeholders to be aware of their
intentions and justifications around such.

 

A
second recommendation would be to create a spectrum of stakeholders,
relationships input consequences and outcome consequences, relative to each
company or organizational structure, including internal and external
stakeholders. Not all stakeholders are the same. But they should be treated
with the same transparency. it needs to be clearly outlined who will be
affecting and who will be affected. Identifying that the most powerful
stakeholder will be the affecting and possibly clarifying that the least
powerful stakeholder will be the solely affected could potentially open the
floor for discussion on a better solution or an equal approach. A third
recommendation would be to conduct current research into ethical marketing
issues and develop theories and frameworks to support relevant ethical
decisions that digital marketers are faced with so often.

 

It
is evident that the grey area that Tsalikis
and Fritzsche (1989) detailed around ethics has since
become even more complex and is indeed ever expanding. Despite the literature
debating whether the status quo is sufficient enough to protect all
stakeholders in a business, or in this case a marketing decision, it is needed
along with the use of additional theories and frameworks recommended above in
order to build at the very least a foundation for ethical marketing when it
comes to digital advertising on third party audience networks.

There
is a clear need for clarity from both digital advertising platforms on what
networks, sites, or even genres of sites a marketers’ advertisements could
potentially be placed upon. It is believed that this subject is gaining
traction and naturally the bigger the corporations that demand more ethical
considerations from these digital advertising platforms, the more will either
follow suit or the platforms will have no choice other than to adapt their
current practice to suit their customers, in this case advertisers, ethical
standards.

 

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