Marketing of Ethic or Ethical Marketing?

Nike sport shoes produced by children of 10 years old or by sweatshops (wherein workers are slaves exploited within immoral conditions), isn’t it ringing any bell? For 20 years, the brand is at the heart of controversial critics and has become unintendedly the symbol of the necessary fight against these inhuman practices. These attacks have been effective: seeing their image being damaged and their turnover diminishing, Nike has no other choice than adopting a more ethical marketing.

Yes, but what is “ethical marketing”?

Patrick Muprhy, expert on the topic, defines it as being “open, reliable, and responsible practices for setting a marketing policy, whether it is at the individual or organizational level, which shows evidence of integrity toward consumers and other stakeholders”.

This ideal, that any managers should look for, is translated within certain practices and has a real impact on the brand image. In 2016, three French companies were listed within the most ranking of the most ethical companies: L’Oréal, Capgemini, and Schneider Electric.

A society that claims to care about ethical issues

Citizens are concerned with the quality and security of food, production and distribution mode. For many of them, it leads to a more responsible consumption (e.g. organic and sustainable products, awareness of counterfeit, etc.). These consumers demand for ethical and fair prices at the two ends of the chain.

Sure, but in practices?

Numerous ethical questions still remain.  Thus, in the distribution system, the imbalance between power and responsibility results into a lack of transparency upon price policy (at the point of sales, dynamic pricing strategy of Amazon, etc.). As well, the questions raised also concern the well management of the supply chain and the choices / control of outsourcers. Finally, the new forms of advertising, for instance one-to-one advertisement (targeting) or putting down barriers with information (native advertising), bring to light the new and necessary protections that must be provided to consumers in regards to their right for privacy.

So what should we do?

Developing research on ethical marketing

Putting differently, the ambition must be to conduct research that aim at testing various theories, even contributing to developing new ones, with an interdisciplinary approach (linked to the law for instance) and a cultural approach (to ensure the invariance of measurement tools). These research must be conducted among managers and directors instead of student samples; the use of scenarios can be valid but it needs to be in a reasonable number and recent enough.

Training future managers and directors

This means the need for a specific class on ethical marketing, and to integrate this topic to others already ongoing in marketing, with a genuine and relevant mix of theory and examples issued from the economical press.

Companies’ ethical practices relate to anyone and to each of our own faces: teacher, researcher, consumer, and citizen. So, let’s gather and fight for a more ethical social economy!

Murphy Patrick E., Recherche en éthique du marketing: thèmes récurrents et émergents, Recherche et Applications en Marketing, First Published March 21, 2017

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« Death Dealers »: how professionals legitimate their practices in these controversial sectors.

Legal restrictions keep popping-up within controversial sectors considered as harmful to health such as tobacco and alcohol. In line with numerous regulations issued from the 1991 Evin law (i.e. prohibition for smoking in public areas or for any form of advertising related to and favoring, directly or indirectly, tobacco), since January 1st 2017 in France, only neutral cigarettes packaging can be sold. As well, the development of these regulations come with a public opinion’s will, and at a worldwide level, to reinforce the coercive characteristic of well-established policies. In 2017, after the release of the 10th report, the Quebec Ethical Council for alcoholic drinks industry blames once more the Quebec government for its permissiveness regarding the practical application of the law. In Belgium, several health related consulting room urge for an ambitious Alcohol Plan.


In this context, marketers’ role and work fundamentally collides with ethical issues since they have to market product which are socially contested and of which, the consumption lead to a deadly end. How, in this case, is it possible to handle this ethical dilemma? This is the question raised by Anne Sachet-Milliat, Loréa Baiada-Hireche, and Bénédicte Bourcier-Bequaert in their article published in Research and Applications in Marketing. The authors used a qualitative methodology based on semi-structured interviews of 17 marketers working in the sector of alcohol and tobacco. The authors come back to ethical issues encountered, in either case linked to marketing actions, considered as highly motivational, or to the general embarrassment feeling inherent to the sector. The authors identify three processes of neutralization helping marketing to work in these sensitive and difficult environments.

Three little agreements with Death.

Moral improvement of the marketing profession

The first technique of neutralization consist of establishing moral elements of their activity. Marketers working in these sectors dangerously minimize the risks linked to the marketed products and insist on rigorous internal procedures set up to frame their practices. They even go further by putting forward the corporate social responsibility policies of their company and the action taken to limit the overconsumption of alcohol and tobacco, in particular toward vulnerable population as Youngers.

Denial remains conventional!

Marketers also use denial by pointing out the coercive role of the State, who does not let any space to ethical violation, accusing that very one of restraining their activities by taxing more and more to increase their own wealth off social issues, or by using hypocrites manners. Marketers also cite the technique of victim denial: consumers who smoke or drink alcohol knows the consequence and fully assume it.

Interest for the profession

Finally, some marketers admittedly recognize ethical issues raised by their sectors but they call on economic arguments (interest for the profession, financial benefits, career) to justify their mission within controversial organizations.

More broadly speaking, this article invite us to an introspection regarding our own professional practices: are they really that ethical? What is hidden behind these fake arguments to always feel the need to justify them? Many questions that will occupy our minds these coming days, and who knows, it might give us a boost!

[1] A. Sachet-Milliat, L. Baiadda-Hireche et B. Bourcier-Bequaert (2017), Les marketers des secteurs controversés face à leur conscience : une approche par la théorie des neutralisations, Recherche et Applications en Marketing, First Published March 8, 2017

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To shock to incite donations, how far can we go?

The end of the year represents a particular time framework for communication campaign since it brings to light social causes next to Christmas advertisement. This year, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins sans Frontières’ (Doctors without Borders) ads with trash images of battlefield and refugees’ camps were sharing our favorite magazines ad pages with Santa Claus and glasses of Champagne. However, is the old strategy of choc, of which “Action contre la faim” opened the way in France in the 90’s, nowadays still worthy to use to initiate donations?


Stimulating emotions to generate reactions? Continue reading

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Back to the future: when brands use the past for future profits.

Consumers and brands…at a crossroad

When Lacoste presents the edging attached to its clothing as an allusion to its tennis heritage, or when Samsung claims to create an emotional connection with its consumers by emphasising on its heritage, these two brands rely on their past to add value to the present, namely their brand heritage. But what is it? Not that easy to distinguish between heritage, authenticity, nostalgia, or retro-marketing. And how do brands construct their heritage? For what use? Here are a few questions raised by Fabien Pecot and Virginie de Barnier in their recent paper published in Research and Applications in Marketing.

Brand Heritage… Continue reading

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Creative crowdsourcing: in search of memorable moments

How do you speed up the development of the first connected toothbrush when you are the biggest name in hygiene? Procter & Gamble Oral-B responded to this challenge by calling upon eYeka, a platform dedicated to creative crowdsourcing with some 300,000 users worldwide. Within three weeks, Oral-B had received 67 ideas from 28 different countries. P&G’s marketing director, Stephen Squire, summarised the benefits of creative crowdsourcing: “We knew time was critical and the company that could launch the first product would have a huge first-mover advantage. The eYeka community gave us the head start needed and helped us anticipate some of the problems that we had to consider in the development of the product; especially the importance of content, gamification, family interaction and socialisation” (eYeka website).

Creative Crowdsourcing

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Goodbye my dear castle…or how to innovate with wine bottle design

Do you know Badoit Rouge or Vittel water bottle with a red cap? What a color for just a mineral water! Isn’t it? Yet, these two products represent a real success of two brand strategies aimed at standing out from the crowd by choosing different visual codes commonly used in this category. It particularly aims at being more visible in the retail place, catching the consumer’s attention and arousing his curiosity, being more memorable, and finally communicating a different image from the competitors. However, how well do you remember Essensis from Danone and its pink packaging inspired from cosmetics? And how about, from the French wine market, the e-motif, Chamarré or even the Rock’n’Rhône? Probably nothing, but it is not a surprise. These products with a supposed innovative packaging have been quickly withdrawn from the market due to a strong rejection or ignorance from consumers.


How do we make consumers accept new visual codes for a well-known product category?

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