Ethics in Social Marketing


By

Surinder Pal Singh
Professor
Rai Business School
A-41, MCIE, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044
 


Problems faced by marketers in non-profit organizations are among the most important and interesting issues in marketing today.

For marketers in commercial organisations, ethical considerations are non-essential constraints. The ultimate aim is to make profits for shareholders, and ethical considerations may limit the methods employed to achieve this aim. For social marketers the situation is different. By definition, their ultimate aim is ethical, and for them the question of whether the ends justify the means is real and challenging. For social marketers, therefore, ethical issues are fundamental.

Unfortunately, most social marketers, believe that it is important to define just what social marketing is, the different types of social marketing that exist, and how social marketing differs from commercial marketing.

Some of these points seem quite appealing at first as some social marketers typically believe that they have only limited resources for achieving such impressive objectives. However, a moment's thought would show that this is not true. Some government agencies in India, for example, have comparatively large promotional budgets that would exceed those of many commercial marketers, particularly those who work in small companies. Thus, the overlap between commercial and social marketing is arguably much greater, and it would be helpful to explore common ground rather than create dubious distinctions.

Although it is worthwhile to argue that these concerns attached with the nature of social marketing are misplaced, it is still not clear whether these are the exclusive domains of social marketers. It is sometimes quoted that "Thoughtful social marketing practitioners are faced all too frequently with ethical dilemmas". This is clearly true, but the same is true of all marketers, who must make personal decisions regarding their activities and the implications these have for others. For example, commercial marketers have to decide whether it is appropriate to market products rich in highly processed carbohydrates while the social marketers have to decide whether it is appropriate to promote immunisation knowing that a very small proportion of children will suffer adverse effects to the vaccines. So, at times it becomes very difficult to demonstrate the ethical problems of social marketers from those faced by marketers in general.

Furthermore, it has been observed that both social marketers and commercial marketers have the same compelling interest; hence it is not surprising that social marketers borrow concepts first developed and applied in commercial marketing. However, it is surprising that there is little discussion of how social marketers can apply this commercial knowledge to the behavioural objectives they wish to tackle.

Ultimately, marketers interested in problems that involve social behaviours want to learn more about the options available for changing or reinforcing those behaviours, and the relative effectiveness of those options. These are difficult questions, as little has been empirically established. However, for social marketing to progress, these questions, as well as their ethical implications, need to be explicitly acknowledged and discussed, and actively researched.
 


Surinder Pal Singh
Professor
Rai Business School
A-41, MCIE, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044
 

Source: E-mail March 30, 2009

          

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