For many people, the answer to this question would be a resounding “YES”. Are marketers really concerned with the well-being of their clients, or are they more concerned with the “bottom line” of the organization they represent? I read an example of an official at Coca-Cola’s Swedish office who says that his goal is to get people to drink Coca-Cola for breakfast instead of orange juice. Is that the best for the consumer?

Change is coming, and has already begun, in how consumers and organizations should view the marketing profession; A more “holistic” approach to consumers is required. In that sense, companies must consider all aspects of their relationship with the consumer, not just their own objectives.

Many may ask “Is there a place for ethics in marketing?” By discussing the concerns that consumers and advocacy groups have with the apparent lack of concern for consumer welfare, we must address the challenges marketers have to ‘self-regulate’ and become more socially responsible. This is really no different from what would be expected of each of us: in an organized society it is everyone’s responsibility to behave ethically. One concern within the marketing industry is that if marketers don’t change their ways and become more socially responsible, they will be subject to more government controls.

The ethical relationship between marketing and the consumer is key to the success of organizations. Consumers expect to be treated fairly and with respect. Consumers expect the service they receive from organizations to be reliable, responsive, trustworthy, understanding, and that they are actually receiving something of value. They don’t want “hot air”, unrealistic promises, or misleading offers. Consumers don’t want products that are inherently bad for them sold. The ethical implications for marketers are great for meeting these expectations. As more people enter the field of marketing, especially the increasingly popular field of “information marketing,” these problems will be, and should be, some of the first problems to be addressed.

A new basis for marketing is needed and the ethical implications of marketers targeting specific groups or segments of consumers. Companies have targeted specific segments of consumers that they believe will provide them with the greatest benefits, sometimes to the exclusion of others. Some consumers feel that marketers do not care at all what happens to them once they buy a product and that this emptor warning, or the “buyer beware” theory of marketing is, and should, be quickly discarded.

Markets need to be more concerned with consumer needs and wants, but still have to take into account the overall goal of the business. Unfortunately, this creates a conflict between the marketer’s priorities, the consumer’s needs and wants, and the organization’s goals (profits), and is the basis for much of the confusion and concerns about ethical marketing practices. To overcome the challenges this presents to organizations and, to some extent, consumers, everyone involved must take a more holistic or global view of the marketing process. Ethical decision-making for businesses will require that they take an “enlightened self-interest” approach to serving the consumer, to ensure that marketing practices are ethically sound.

Consumers must also take responsibility for being more self-aware and informed about the products they buy and use. For those with the ability to make rational decisions, consumers must take action and research the products they buy; they must develop an awareness of their needs, as appropriate to their desires, and make decisions regarding the directions their consumption takes them. If consumers expect organizations to treat them with respect and provide a level of service commensurate with their needs, they must do their part.

Service is really the art of offering the consumer more than just the product they are buying. Part of that offering is giving consumers the assurance that what you are marketing to them is based on ethically sound principles: Do organizations treat their customers with respect? Are they honest and direct in their communications with consumers?

As consumer rights awareness increases and advocacy groups put pressure on organizations and governments, the priority that organizations must give to the ethical implications of their marketing programs will only increase. In the service industry, the relationship between the consumer and the service provider is the only thing that matters. If the consumer perceives that they are being treated unethically, they will go elsewhere. But, not only will they leave, they will take as many others as they can. The risk that organizations face in treating their clients / clients unethically is too great to allow this to happen.