Ethical Issues in Consumer Research

Jacob Jacoby, New York University
[ to cite ]:
Jacob Jacoby (1994) ,"Ethical Issues in Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 565.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 565


Jacob Jacoby, New York University

Dictionaries define ethics as "a set of moral principles ... of right and wrong behavior." We focused on "right and wrong" as these surface in consumer research and involve consumer researchers.

Holbrook (1993) outlined philosophical perspectives regarding ethics and provided a four-celled framework for considering ethics in the consumer context. Crossing consumers vs. researchers with actions "done to" vs. "taken by" individuals, activities falling within each cell were discussed (see accompanying paper).

Olson discussed deception and use of debriefing to "handle" problems created by deception (see Toy, Olson and Wright, 1993). A framework was presented that distinguishes between deceptions creating false self-relevant beliefs (more serious ethical problems) vs. beliefs unrelated to self (less serious ethical problems), and between intended and unintended deception effects. Olson then described considerations for deciding whether to use deception in consumer research and how applying alternative ethical perspectives for analyzing the effects of deception can lead to different conclusions. He finished by offering several recommendations, including considering alternatives to deception.

Jacoby (1993) outlined ACR's history re: establishing an ethics committee (see Friedman, 1977a,b; Jacoby, 1977). Citing a 1992 survey commissioned by the AAAS showing that "27% of the respondents said they had personally encountered the fabrication, falsification or theft of research in the past decade," Jacoby asked: "What makes us believe things are any different in consumer research?" After conducting an exercise revealing substantial audience agreement on what constituted unethical behaviors among consumer researchers, Jacoby asked: "What would happen if an ACR member violated these understandings?" His answer: "As things stand now, absolutely nothing." He then described filing a formal complaint of plagiarism with the ACR Executive Committee in 1992, only to be told they could not hear the matter, as ACR had not established procedures for doing so. Apparently, as ACR has neither developed nor adopted any professional standards of conduct, anything goes. Concluding, Jacoby noted that, in the absence of checks and balances, there is potential for ACR (and committees acting as executives of ACR) to act unethically.

As Chairman of the Professional Standards Task Force established in 1993 to examine ACR's role vis-a-vis ethics, Smith (1993) presented the report he delivered to ACR's Board of Directors. His committee identified three relevant sets of issues: ACR members (1) in relation to research subjects and research beneficiaries; (2) in relation to each other; and (3) as ACR executives. Weighing the pros and cons of taking action, this committee recommended that ACR move forward to develop a Code of Ethics and form an ethics committee. Smith reported that the Board of Directors voted down these recommendations.

William Wilkie, the "Discussant," commented on the presentations, then opened the session to discussion. Among the audience, there was general recognition that, as part of their maturation and development, organizations purporting to represent scholarly disciplines develop formal mechanisms to govern and police the ethical issues surrounding their discipline. There was general consensus that, as the organization purporting to be the voice of consumer research, the time was ripe for such action within ACR.


Friedman, Peter Monroe (1977) "ACR Standards for Professional Conduct in Consumer Research: Can we get there from here?" In William D. Perrault, Jr. (ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. IV, 254-55.

Friedman, Peter Monroe (1977) "Establishing Standards for Professional Conduct in Consumer Research: A Suggested Role for the Association for Consumer Research." In William D. Perrault, Jr. (ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. IV, 261.

Holbrook, Morris B. (1993) "Ethics in Consumer Research: An Overview and Prospectus" In Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John (eds.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XXI, 1994.

Jacoby, Jacob (1977) "History and Objectives Underlying the Formation of ACR's Professional Affairs Committee." In William D. Perrault, Jr. (ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. IV, 256-57.

Jacoby, Jacob (1993) "Ethical Issues in Consumer Research: Selected Remarks."

Smith, Craig (1993) "Ethics and ACR: An Initial Report to the ACR Board of Directors from the ACR Professional Standards Task Force."

Toy, Daniel, Jerry Olson and Lauren Wright (1993) "The Role of Deception and Debriefing in Consumer Research." Working Paper Series in Marketing Research, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 16802