Special Session Summary Ethical Issues in Social Sector Marketing


Gary J. Bamossy (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Ethical Issues in Social Sector Marketing", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 145-146.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 145-146



Gary J. Bamossy, University of Utah, U.S.A.


An increasingly common approach to solving social problems around the world is the application of commercial marketing concepts and techniques, know as Asocial marketing, to influence undesirable behavior. Much of the practice and research in this area is closely based on consumer behavior theory and field and laboratory investigations. Now that we are becoming more successful getting these ideas accepted in managing behavior, we need to consider the ethical issues surrounding the management of these behaviors. Unfortunately, unlike most marketing activities, social marketing is not subject to formal market regulations nor are there any accepted code or norms of practice. Yet, there is a wide range of ethical and moral issues that must be confronted if the field is to achieve the formidable mission it sets out for itself. At the moment, practitioners and their funders and advisors are guided primarily by their own sense of what is right and proper.

Social marketers confront ethical and moral dilemmas all the time, but do not always reflect on them. What if improving the lives of one group has negative effects on another group? Or what if a strategy would work better and more lives improved if only the social marketer was not quite so candid about the recommended course of action? Is it permissible to try to drive tobacco marketers out of the cigarette business? Is it permissible to pass laws making a crime to not wear a seat belt if this takes away individual freedom? Are alliances with tainted partners acceptable if together they are making the world a better place? Does social marketing need its own Code of Ethics?

This session is designed to address these B and many more B issues surrounding the use of a very potent technology, commercial marketing, in influencing consumer behavior in what everyone assumes is a Agood cause.



Michael Rothschild, University of Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Public health and social issue managers are asked to succeed with respect to the management of the behavior of members of society. To accomplish this, they have at hand the tool sets of education, marketing and law. What are the rights and responsibilities of these managers in seeking to influence the behavior of citizens in a free-choice society when the freely-made choices may lead to externalities for the society or for other individuals? What are the rights and responsibilities of the target individuals as well as the individuals who are indirectly impacted in social marketing programs? Under what conditions do managers have the right to influence, and under what conditions is there a responsibility to do so? If there is a responsibility to manage efficiently and effectively, then what tradeoffs need to be made between allowing free choice and managing externalities that result from undesired free choice?

Utilitarianism calls for the greatest good for the greatest number; teleology suggests that means are justified by the ends. These philosophies encourage managers to focus on the development of strategies with wide impact. But, are the issues here different from those in commercial marketing? Should the height of the ethical hurdle in selecting marketing strategies be higher or lower than that in the private sector? There are many in social marketing who would say that the standard must be higher, that their cause is a noble one, and that they must be beholden to a higher standard. Another view would be that the standards permissibly can be lower because the cause they are promoting is more noble than in commercial ventures. Is any strategy permissible if the cause is good enough?

If a manager is entrusted with resolving a public health or social issue problem and selects less than the most efficient and effective set of strategies and tactics, can this be inferred to comprise unethical management? Is it unethical to use inefficiently what is limited taxpayer or charitable resources? Is it unethical to allow illness and premature death to occur unnecessarily when unused strategies could be have had more impact?

Eating more fruits and vegetables reduces the probability of the onset of many forms of cancer. Given that fact, is it ethical to use inefficient education programs that inform many, but only change the behavior of a few? In a free-choice society, is it ethical to pass laws that force people to eat more produce if they would rather choose junk food? Are manipulative and emotional tactics based on misleading messages and incomplete information ethical if good health is prolonged? In a society where medical costs are high-and are paid for either through tax revenues or through insurance (both being a sharing of costs across large numbers)-is it ethical to allow a behavior to exist which causes externalities that are imposed on others? Can consumer marketing be seen as a good compromise between the inefficiency of education and the abatement of free choice that comes with laws?

This presentation does not reach answers to any of the above questions, but, rather, puts forth a framework within which the manager can consider two sets of issues. First are the tradeoffs between rights and responsibilities, and free choice and externalities. Second are the issues inherent in considering costs and benefits, efficiency and effectiveness, and means and ends. This presentation considers conditions under which education, marketing, and/or law might be appropriate and ethical tools of behavior management with respect to public health and social issue problems.


Alan R. Andreasen, Georgetown University, U.S.A.

Minette Drumwright, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

Two fundamental characteristics of social marketing organizations are that they have very limited resources (both finances and skills) and they often have huge, dramatic goals (give examples). As a consequence, they need help from others to leverage their own resources. While alliances are common in the private sector, they pose special problems for social marketers. In part, this is because the parties B typically corporations and nonprofits B differ significantly in size, expertise, objectives, performance measures and, most importantly, cultures.

These differences can lead to potential ethical problems on both sides. These can appear with respect both to the alliance transactions themselves and to the content of the social marketing program on which the alliance is working. Among the possible dilemmas are the following:

a. Hiding or disguising policies, practices, outcomes;

b. Taking an unfair share of the Aspoils;

c. Behaving differently with respect to the Aheight of the ethical bar

d. Arguing over what is Aright such that the social marketing culture is poisoned to the extent that staffers feel that the social marketer is no longer Aethical and so they quit;

e. Restricting on the social marketer's freedom of action.

Without appropriate attention to possible ethical conflicts, alliances that should be win-in situations can turn sour for the parties and even destructive for the social marketer. In this paper, we shall ask whether competing ethical frameworks can exist in social marketing alliances or whether there can-or should be-only one acceptable ethical standard (i.e. is there only Aethical behavior not Acorporate ethics and Asocial marketing ethics)? Under what conditions (if any) can one party Aimpose ethical standards on the other party, for example, can a social marketer require a commercial organization to divulge publicly its budget for an advertising campaign that partly supports a publically-funded social marketing campaign?

Frameworks for solutions will be drawn from the literature on reconciling ethical differences across religious, ethnic and national cultures and across diverging corporate cultures. The paper will conclude by proposing the outlines of a universal Code of Alliance ethics.



N. Craig Smith, Georgetown University, U.S.A. and INSEAD, France

The practice of social marketing is generally founded on good intentions. Nonetheless, in seeking to do good, social marketers face many ethical issues. Indeed, in some respects there is greater scope for unethical practice in social marketing than in for-profit marketing by business. This paper identifies the range of ethical issues arising in social marketing and explores the potential of social contract theory as a basis for informing decisions about these issues. More specifically, it examines the possible use of Integrative Social Contract Theory (ISCT) by social marketers.

Social marketing seeks to change social behavior to benefit the target audience and the broader society. Hence, at its core, social marketing may challenge the autonomy of the individual who is the subject of a social marketing campaign. Further, some social marketing campaigns may be of benefit to the wider society, but not to the target individual (e.g., some contraception programs in LDCs). Even where target individuals would give informed consent to social marketing campaigns and see benefits to themselves, there may be ethical issues arising in the development and execution of marketing programs. Social marketers make decisions about which segments to target and, hence, who will not benefit from social marketing programs. Marketing programs may involve questions associated with product safety, truth in advertising, and fairness in pricing. In sum, social marketers are faced with many of the ethical issues found in for-profit marketing as well as a set of issues that are unique to the social marketing context.

Social contract theory is gaining increased recognition within business ethics, particularly in a specific formulation known as Integrative Social Contract Theory (Donaldson and Dunfee 1994). ISCT integrates two types of contracts. A hypothetical macrosocial contract provides the overall framework and is a heuristic device comparable to the classic social contracts of Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau. In keeping with these philosophers, ISCT views global humanity as seeking to design a binding, though unwritten agreement that establishes the parameters for ethics in economic relationships. Within this framework are actual, community-based microsocial contracts. These contextual, more narrowly prescribed social contracts reflect the norms used by specific communities in evaluating business ethics. It is ISCT's focus on communities and their norms that makes this approach particularly appropriate to social marketing. Social marketing often involves competing claims of different communities.

Social contract theory and, more specifically, ISCT, appear to offer considerable potential in the normative evaluation of ethical issues in social marketing. However, some additional assumptions not envisaged in the original formulation of ISCT may be required because of the non-profit context of social marketing. Moreover, because ISCT relies on norms of communities, it has limitations when used to address issues involving challenges to individual autonomy. The paper concludes by identifying implications for social marketers and for further research.



Gary J. Bamossy, University of Utah, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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