To ask whether marketing can be ethical is to imply whether it should be ethical and also to attempt a definition.
Marketing as a discipline has possibly the greatest social impact of all disciplines. It is everywhere and nowhere: in neuroscience and old people’s homes, in outer space and inside the body.
It’s a local conversation about loss, value and the old days. It’s a boardroom discussion about share price and profit warning. Wherever there is at least one twenty first century person you might think, there could be a market.
So should the question be: ‘Can Markets be Ethical’? Should marketing tools and practitioners read and communicate not only marketing and manufacturing factors but also hidden influences around markets? Can marketing contain a real manufacturing and supply chain narrative?
Can it educate towards liberation and not escape?
Marketing is ethical where it sees and connects its manufacturer/producer and consumer as human beings living with manufacturing and production systems that 90% of us would make more humane if we had the wit, the knowledge or the inclination.
Can the extended stakeholder model apply to marketing theory?
Can the teaching of marketing really communicate with new students from all backgrounds?
Who are the successful marketers?
Do they still come from privileged backgrounds?
What is the general background of marketers from the top advertising agencies?
Are they hungry to use knowledge, status and influence to shake hands with the unknown in their own society?
Can marketing creativity encourage celebrity to become a little more ordinary?
Can marketing save lives, stop war or the global impact of manufacturing pollution or organised crime?
What can we mean by change?
Does marketing need to pioneer its own rebirth into ‘understatement’ to disseminate really interesting information about products that may eventually become redundant without a manufacturer going out of business?
How can tools remain tools and not become weapons?
Can continuous development to better, more humane products be built into every business strategy without any sense of failure?
Do business ‘leaders’ always have to be ‘sharks’?
Should marketing harness the ferocity of the shark to perform the delicate brain surgery of social change?
Is it ethical for marketing to perpetuate racial stereotypes about baddies and goodies, the impoverished and the wealthy, east and west, north and south, images that don’t ever develop or change?
Should marketing take the ethical lead away from government and media barons?
Can marketing be crucial in changing the lowest common denominator tabloid journalism supported by sex lines and loan companies?
Do their readership communities deserve that?
Should marketing re-write wrongs simply by writing campaigns that work to rebalance the eye, the heart and the mind?
Does showing more about the manufacturing process, its context and its audience as a process using all the tools at our creative disposal mean different stories, different products?
You decide. It’s all up to you.