The concept of marketing products and services in a consumer market is often seen as ethically dubious by media analysts. On a broader perspective, the inherently weak moral imperative of capitalist culture makes this outcome inevitable. As a result, marketing strategies have attracted much flak and condemnation from the judicious sections of society. There is also a perception that marketers take advantage of people’s weaknesses and vulnerability. In this context, top managers will have to ponder over the following question: ‘When a delicate and disturbing situation leads to a viable business opportunity, how we can follow up without appearing exploitative?’ (Lears, 1995, p.78) It is only through a satisfactory and conscientious introspection that the often ethically dodgy marketing industry can make amends. According to a leading British management scholar, a good marketing approach would translate to the company “pursuing the new opportunity carefully and raising awareness of the issue without tying it directly to a sensitive incident. They need to set the stage by building awareness of their overall positioning among a horizontal audience”. (Krebsbach, 2006, p.30) Unless such ethical considerations are catered for, marketers will not be able to achieve good marketing standards.
Ethical marketing is a phrase much bandied about, and at one level, it appears a genuine concept. However, skeptics suggest that “brands seizing on the fad for an ethical bent are merely displaying a selfish reaction to consumer pressure, which, while dressed up in the guise of saving the earth, is simply intended to keep profits flowing” (Campbell, 1999, p.106). But in spite of all the criticism one can attach to the marketing industry as a whole, some corners of the industry is trying in earnest to move towards acceptable marketing standards. However, unless the basic motive of marketers is modified, there won’t be any perceptible change in the prevailing situation. And the term “good marketing” will continue to remain an oxymoron.
What gives hope is the invention of the concept ‘social marketing’. It is defined as “the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of society”. (Bloom & Novelli, 1981, p.83) Commercial marketing, on the other hand is defined as the understanding, targeting and advertisement of products and services to consumers, with the expectation of making profits out of the enterprise. This profit motive is what essentially separates the two concepts and in most cases makes them conceptually incompatible. (Lefebvre, 2001, p.44).
Moreover, significant differences between the worlds of social marketing and commercial marketing mean that the transfer of commercial marketing concepts into the social marketing arena poses a number of problems. In a general sense, social marketing is a novel way of conceiving and implementing a very old human endeavor. From time immemorial, “there have been social systems, there have been attempts to inform, persuade, influence, motivate, to gain acceptance for new adherents to certain sets of ideas, to promote causes and to win over particular groups, to reinforce behavior or to change it — whether by favor, argument or force” (Kotler, 2002, p.11). Social Marketing has its origins in religion, politics, academics, and also in military strategy. It also has intellectual roots in “disciplines such as psychology, sociology, political science, communication theory and anthropology”. (Kotler, 2002, p.13) Its practical development is related to such disciplines as “advertising, public relations and market research, as well as to the work and experience of social activists, advocacy groups and community organizers”. (Fergenson & Fergenson, 1989, p.32) Hence, in order to make good some of the unsavory aspects of marketing practice as it exists today, the adoption of social marketing framework would be helpful.
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