Ethics in Marketing Research


Dr. K. Rajesh Kumar
Department of Management Studies
AMC Engineering College
18th KM, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore-83

Mr. C. Kandasamy
Research Scholar
Anna University Coimbatore


This article addresses the growing concern over violation of research ethics in marketing, in particular rights of human subjects in fieldwork, notably the right to informed consent; right to privacy and confidentiality; and right not to be deceived or harmed as a result of participation in a research. The Article highlights the interaction of the three main parties involved in most marketing research: the sponsoring organization (client or user), researcher, and participant in the survey, focusing on researcher's ethical responsibilities in interacting with human subjects in surveys.

Ethics in Marketing Research


Today, it is far too easy to begin practicing marketing research. But unethical research practice relying on poor information to make major decision has resulted in loss of market share, reduction in profits, and, in some cases, bankruptcy.

Ethics are moral principles or values generally governing the conduct of an individual or group. Ethics behavior is not, however, a one-way relationship clients, suppliers, as well as field services, must also act in an ethical manner. Ethical questions range from practical, narrowly defined issues, such as a researcher's obligation to be honest with its customers, to broader social and philosophical questions, such as a company's responsibility to preserve the environment and protect employee rights.

Unethical practices by some suppliers include abusing respondents, selling unnecessary research, and violating client include requesting bids when a supplier has been predetermined, requesting bids gain to free advice methodology, marketing false promises, and issuing unauthorized requests for proposals. Marketing research field services have used professional respondents, which I unethical.

Respondents have certain rights, including the rights to choose whether to participate in a marketing research project, the right to safety from physical and psychological harm, and the right to be informed of all aspects of the research task. They should know what is involved, how long it will take, and what will be done with the data. Respondents also have the right to privacy.

Research Suppliers Ethics

Unethical research supplier practices range from low-ball pricing to violating client confidentiality

Low-Ball Pricing a research supplier should quote a firm price based on a specific incidence rate (Percentage of the respondents in the sample that will qualify to complete the survey) and questionnaire length (Time to complete). If either of the latter two items changes, then the client should expect a change in the contract price. Low- ball pricing in any form is unethical. In essence, low-ball pricing is quoting an unethically low price to secure a firm's business and then using some means to substantially raise the price. For example, quoting a price based on an unrealistically high incidence rate is a form lowball pricing. Offering to conduct a focus group at $6,000 a group and, after the client commits, saying, "The respondents fees for participating in the group discussion are, of course, extra" is a form of low-balling.

Allowing Subjectivity into the Research:- Research suppliers must avoid using biased samples, misusing statistics, ignoring relevant data, and creating a research design with the goal of supporting a predetermined objectives.

Abusing Respondents Respondent abuse can take several forms. Perhaps the most common is lengthy interviews. This problem stems in part from the "as long as you're asking question" mentality of many product managers. It is not uncommon for clients to request additional "nice to know" questions, or even exploratory questions on an entirely separate project. This leads to lengthy questionnaire, 30- minutes telephone or internet interviews, and 40- minutes mall-intercept interviews. As a result of long interviews and telephone sales pitches, more and more Americans are refusing to participate in survey research. The refusal percent, an increase of 10 percent over10 years. Forty nine percent of the people who do participate say the surveys are "too personal".

Selling Unnecessary Research a  research supplier dealing with a client who has little or no familiarity with marketing research often has the opportunity to " trade the client up"

Violating Client Confidentiality information about a client's general business activities or the results of a client's project should not be disclosed to a third party. The supplier should not even disclose the name of a client unless permission is received in advance.

Client Ethics

Like research supplier's clients (or users) also have a number of ethical do's and don'ts. Some of the more common client problems are requesting bids when a supplier has been predetermined, requesting bids to obtain free advice and methodology, making false promises, and issuing unauthorized REPs.

Requesting Bids to Obtain free Advice and Methodology

It is not uncommon for a client to prefer one research supplier over another. Such a preference may be due to a good working relationship, cost considerations, ability to make deadlines, friendship, or quality of the research staff. Having a preference per se is not unethical. It is unethical, however, to predetermine which supplier will receive a contract and yet ask for proposals from other suppliers to satisfy corporate requirements. Requiring time, effort, and money from firms that have no opportunity to win the contract is very unfair. Why more than a single RFP? Some corporations require more than one bid.

Requesting Bids to Obtain and Methodology

Client companies seeking bargain basement prices have been known to solicit detailed proposals, including complete methodology and a sample questionnaire, from a number of suppliers. After "picking the brains" of the suppliers, the client assembles a questionnaire and then contracts directly with field services to gather the data. A variation of this is to go to the cheapest supplier with the client's own proposal, derived by taking the best ideas from the other proposals. The client then attempts to get the supplier to conduct the more elaborate study at the lower price.

Making False Promises Another technique used by unethical clients to lower their research costs is to hold out a nonexistent carrot. For example, a client might say, "I don't want to promise anything, but we are planning a major stream of research in this area, and if you will give us a good price on this first study, we will make it up to you on the next one." Unfortunately, the nest one never comes-or if it does, the same line is used on another unsuspecting supplier.

Requesting Proposals without Authorization

In each of the following situations, a client representative sought proposals without first receiving the authority to allocate the funds to implement them:

1. A client representative decided o ask for proposals and then go to Management to find out whether he could get the funds to carry them out.

2. A highly regarded employee made a proposal to management on the need for marketing research in a given area. Although managers were not too enthused about the idea, they told the researcher to seek bids so as not to dampen his interest or miss a potentially (but, in their view, highly unlikely) good idea.

3. A client representative and his management had different ideas on what the problem was and how it should be solved. The research supplier was not informed of the management view, and even though the proposal met the representative's requirements, management rejected it out of hand.

4. Without consulting with the sales department, a client representative asked for a proposal on analyzing present sales performance. Through fear of negative feedback, corporate politics, or lack of understanding of marketing research, the sales department blocked implementation of the proposal.

Field Service Ethics

Using Professional Respondents: 

The problem of professional respondents arises most often in the recruitment of focus group participants. Virtually all field services maintain a database of people willing to participate in qualitative discussion groups, along with a list of their demographic characteristics. Maintaining such a list is good business and quite ethical. When qualifications for group participants are easy, there is little temptation to use professional respondents.

Data-Collection Code of Ethics

The Marketing Research Association (MRA) is an association to which may field services belong. The organization is dedicated to promoting excellence in data collection. To this end, it recently enacted the following code of ethics:

Companies Engaged in Data Collection…

1. Will treat the respondent with respect and not influencing a respondent's opinion or attitude on any issue through direct or indirect attempts, including the framing of questions.

2. Will conduct them in a professional manner and ensure privacy and confidentiality.

3. Will ensure that all formulas used during bidding and reporting during the data collection process conforms to the MRA guidelines.

4. Will make factually correct statement to secure cooperation and will honor promises made during the interview to respondents, whether verbal or written.

5. Will give respondents the opportunity to refuse to participate in the research when there is a possibility they may be identifiable even without the use of their mane or address (e.g., because of the size of the population being sampled).

6. Will not use information to identify respondents without the permission of the respondent except to those who check the data or are involved in processing the data. If such permission is give, the interviewer must record it, or a respondent must do so, during all internet studies, at the time the permission is secured.

7. Will adhere to and follow these principles when conducting online research: respondent's rights to anonymity must be safeguarded. Unsolicited e-mail must not be sent to those requesting not to receive any furtherer-mail. Researchers interviewing minors must adhere to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act(COPPA). Before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from a child, the researcher must obtain verifiable parental consent from the child's parent.

8. Will respect the respondent's right to withdraw or refuse to cooperate at any stage of the study and will to use any procedure or technique to coerce or imply that cooperation is obligatory.

9. For internet research, will not use any data in any way contrary to the provider's published privacy statement without permission from the respondent.

10. Will obtain and document respondent consent when it is known that the personally identifiable information of the respondent may be passed by audio, video, or interactive voice response to a third party for legal or other purposes.

11. Will obtain permission and document consent of a parent, legal guardian or responsible guardian before interviewing children 13 years of age or younger. Prior to obtaining permission, the interviewer should divulge the subject matter, length of interview, and other tasks that may be required of the respondent.

12. Will ensure that all interviewers comply with any laws or regulations that may be applicable when contacting or communicating to any minor(18 years old or younger) regardless of the technology or methodology utilized.

13. Will not reveal any information that could be used to identify clients without their written authorization.

14. Will ensure that companies, their employees, and subcontractors involved in the data-collection process adhere to reasonable precautions so that multiple surveys are not conducted at the same time with a specific respondent without explicit permission from the sponsoring company or companies.

15. Will consider all research materials provided by the client or generated as a result of materials provided by the client to be the property of the client. These materials will not be disseminated or disposed of without the verbal or written permission of the client.

16. Will, as time and availability permit, give their client the opportunity to monitor studies in progress to ensure research quality.

17. Will not represent an any research activity to be opinion and marketing research, such as: the compilation of lists, registers, or data banks of names and addresses for any non research purposes (e.g., canvassing or fund raising). Industrial, commercial, or any other from of espionage. The acquisition of information for use by credit rating services or similar organizations.

Respondents Rights

Right to choose every one has the right to determine whether or not to participate in a marketing research project. Some people, such as poorly educated individuals or children may not fully appreciate this privilege. A person who would like to determinate an interview or experiment may give short, incomplete answers or even false data. The fact that a person has consented to be part of an experiment or to answer a questionnaire does not give the researcher carte blanche to do whatever she or he wants. The researcher still has an obligation to the respondent.

Right to Safety Research have the right to safety from physical or psychological harm. While it is unusual for a respondent to be exposed to physical harm, there have cases of persons becoming ill during food taste tests. The more common for a respondent to be placed in a psychologically damaging situation. Individuals might experience stress when an interviewer presses them to participate in a study. Others might experience stress when they can not answer questions or are given a time limit to complete a task(for example, "You have five minutes to browse through this magazine, and then I will ask you a series of questions").

Right to be Informed Research participants has the right to be informed of all aspects of a research task. Knowing what is involved, how long it will take, and what will be done with the data, a person can make an intelligent choice to whether to participate in the project. Often, it is necessary to disguise the name of the research sponsor to avoid biasing the respondent.

Right to Privacy all consumers have right to Privacy. All major research organizations, including the MRA (discussed above), the Internet Marketing Research Association (IMRO), American Marketing Association(AMA) and Advertising Research Foundation(ARF), have privacy codes. Consumer privacy can be defined in terms of two dimensions of control. The first dimension includes control of unwanted telephone, mail, e mail, or personal intrusion in the consumer's environment, and the second concerns control of information about the consumer. Consumer privacy can be viewed in the context of any interaction, profit or nonprofit, between marketer and consumer, including (but not limited to) credit and cash sales, consumer inquires, and marketer-initiated surveys. The very nature of the marketing

Research business requires interviewers to invade an individual's privacy. An interviewer calls or approaches stranger, requests a portion of their limited time, and asks them to answer personal questions-Sometimes very personal questions. Perhaps the greatest privacy issue for consumers today is the role of marketing databases. A number of laws have been passes in recent years dealing with various aspects of privacy as it relates to the marketing industry.


Ethics are moral principals or values generally governing the conduct of an individual or group. The deontology theory says that a person will follow his or her obligations to another individual or society because upholding one's duty is what is considered ethically correct. In contrast, utilitarian ethical theory maintains that a choice yielding the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people is the choice that is ethically correct.

Unethical practices by some suppliers include low-ball pricing, allowing subjectively into the research, abusing respondents, selling unnecessary research, and violating client confidentiality. Unethical practices performed by some research clients include requesting bids when a supplier has been predetermined, requesting bids to gain free advice or methodology, making false promises, and issuing unauthorized requests for proposal. Marketing research field services have used professional respondents, which is unethical.

Respondents have certain rights, including the right to choose whether to participate in a marketing research project, the right to safety from physical and psychological harm, and the right to be informed of all aspects of the research task. They should know what is involved, how long it will take, and what will be done with the data. Respondents also have the right to privacy.


Dr. K. Rajesh Kumar
Department of Management Studies
AMC Engineering College
18th KM, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore-83

Mr. C. Kandasamy
Research Scholar
Anna University Coimbatore

Source: E-mail June 9, 2010


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