Marketing Genius from Maple Creative


Marketing tips, observations & philosophy, plus a few rants and random musings - from those who practice, preach and teach marketing, research, advertising, public relations and business strategy.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ethical Void in Marketing?

A couple weeks ago I attended a presentation on ethics in business in Charleston, West Virginia. The presenter, a tenured professor from a respected local university, was commenting on how consumers are justified to expect honesty in corporate communications. Telling the truth was right and just and a mark of corporate integrity, he explained. Then, recognizing the need to clarify his statement, he paused to note the following exception: “Well, except for marketing and advertising. We all know that marketing communication is inherently full of lies.”

I almost fell out of my chair. What was plain to him was entirely troubling to me. He was inferring that marketing is devoid of ethics.

Maybe I should not have been so shocked. After all, Seth Godin, one of America’s most popular and respected marketing gurus, published a book entitled, All Marketers Are Liars. (And he’s a marketing guy!)

It troubles me that marketing is plainly perceived to be full of lies. How did we get to this point? More importantly, what can we do about it? Help me out with your thoughts and suggestions, my dear marketing geniuses.

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Blogger adamh said...

There are a lot of lies out there. The best thing to do about it is prove them wrong, tell the truth, and keep your promises.

5:20 PM

Blogger Skip Lineberg said...


I couldn't agree more with your comment and philosophy. Thank you for taking time to join the conversation!


12:21 PM

Anonymous JJ said...

I would like to think that all marketing professionals who are ever faced with this dilemma, and know better, will do what’s right and walk away. However, we need that little thing called a paycheck.

In my career I have found myself in situations which challenged both my professional and personal values and ethics. These situations were very challenging and caused me to question the integrity of many organizations.

Marketing professionals have a tough job. They are the representatives and point persons for the ethically challenged decision makers. Our world today is focused on closing big deals and making big bucks. To some, it doesn’t matter how they achieve these goals.

With that being said…marketing professionals have a right to be proud of what they do. Without our keen understanding of consumers and brilliance (had to gives us a pat on the back) the world would be a dull place filled with bad advertising and horrid slogans.

2:38 PM

Anonymous shoo said...

I think marketing to customers is like telling a story but great marketers, which are rare, tell fact not fiction.

6:13 AM

Anonymous John Whiteside said...

How did we get to this point? Well, mainly by people observing lots of marketers lying to them.

This corn syrup concoction is "fun." This "light" food won't make you fat, even if you never exercise! Etc. Etc.

Then there's the PR side, where firms put together astroturf organizations to convince people that health insurance will make them unable to go to the doctor and that they must live with toxic sludge if they want jobs.

Then there's the general cluelessness of pushing more advertising into every corner of our lives, our email inboxes, through our phone lines, etc.

I'm a marketing guy too, but our profession lacks any kind of professional ethical standards. People notice this stuff.

I don't know what the answer is. Certainly each of us individually can set our own standards and adhere to them, but that's not going to change the perception, because frankly we're outnumbered.

8:29 AM

Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I'm glad to hear you say that marketing professionals "should be proud." Amen to that!


8:25 PM

Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

Great to see you in the Comments and glad to have you as part of the community of Marketing Genius! Your comment is succinct and powerful. Thank you!


8:26 PM

Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

John Whiteside-
Thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I think you've hit the nail right on the head. Let's keep striving to do things the right way. Glad to have your voice in this conversation!


8:27 PM

Blogger jenniferwood said...

In an assignment for my grad program this week, we discussed integrity and ethics in marketing. I sited this post (of course)... I also came across a website that I thought was interesting. has a compelling and interesting tagline positioning statement. "Ethical Corporation. Not an oxymoron." There's an article from 2002 regarding the Enron scandal that I found an interesting quote.

“…[The] ‘fluff is not enough.’ All the corporate giving programs, standards and policies, and awards and recognition amount to nothing if the company’s practices—how stakeholders (including but not exclusively owners) are treated—are not in reality (not just rhetorically) aligned with the company’s stated values and day-to-day operating practices. Corporate integrity means soundness, wholeness, and, of course, honesty.”
Thought you might be interested.


4:48 PM

Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

Great to work with you today!! Thank you for this comment with such great references to add to this important conversation.

6:43 PM


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