Advertising, Marketing, and Sales are the lifeblood of businesses. It's easy for confusion to set in when you begin tossing around these terms. This is designed to be that way, business people use vague words to make you think that only they can do what they can. However, the truth is that a lot of people don't understand the difference – even many who work in these fields. There still is a difference between these three, and while they support each other and connect and intertwine, they are still different. In fact, there is a somewhat clear process of the three connecting them from start to end. Defining them is only half the battle though, ethics comes into play (as it does with everything else) and changes the end result. Is the existence of these three things unethical in its definition, or is there a proper way to ethical advertise, market, and sell.
However vague they may seem, these three crucial terms still have their own definitions within the business world. Marketing comes first because it is the first in practice, that is the first thing that is done when executing a development plan. Marketing is determining what consumers want, how they want it, how you will strategically go about getting the word out, how much money will be spent. Marketing is the plan that is set up beforehand. Next, advertising is the paid, public, announcement of a persuasive message by an identified sponsor. It's the impersonal presentation or promotion by a firm of its products to its existing and potential customers. This phase is where most of the money is spent by the firm, whether it's paying for TV time, billboard space, or newspaper space. Advertisements are the execution of the marketing plan that is predetermined. It's an introduction of the product into people's lives. Achieved properly, it can prompt consumers to act, and engage in a sale. Finally, sales are the final result of marketing and advertising. The sales process is everything that is done to close the sale and get a signed agreement (or sale). It's anything that engages the seller and the prospect or customer on a personal level rather than at a distance. There is a process and order between the three aspects, but they relate back towards one another at all times.
Today, the most common use of these three things are seen on television in advertisements. This is often how the TV network makes money, by selling advertisement time to companies. Other places are in newspapers, radio, and other media outlets. In these situations, there are more aspects of marketing and advertising rather than sales. Social media is another place where ads have become more popular recently, social media networks exist and make money because they can sell advertising space on their platforms. Social media is changing the way we receive products. Sales can also be applied here, as lots of people use their phones or the internet to buy products. It is no longer necessary to enter a store and physically purchase a product. Advertisements are also in a lot of other places, often times that consumers don't realize. Anytime a logo is placed somewhere, that's “free” advertising. Apple on computers, Nike on clothing, DePaul on the CTA, along with hundreds of more examples. Because the consumer recognizes these logos and knows what they stand for, the companies are getting free advertising simply because the consumer is exposed to the logo. Marketing fits in that it was the plans of the companies to execute their advertisements as they have chosen to. The research they did led them to chose that specific avenue to market their product. However, marketing doesn't necessarily have to be marketing for a specific product, it can be for a person like in political ads or a school. People also market themselves when applying for a job, there is a strategy in their advertising and there is an end result in selling themselves in getting the job or not. One of the ethical issues is the use of emotions in marketing and advertisements. Companies seek to manipulate people to feel a certain emotion and in feeling that emotion, become more inclined to buy that particular product or feel an affinity towards that company.
First, an overview of the ethical theories used to look at the ethics of marketing, advertising, and sales and how the theories are related to these three aspects of business. Firstly, Kantian ethics. This theory is concerned with duty and considers the motives for action. This theory is non-consequentialist and cares not what happens after the action is taken. Kantian ethics is all about what happens prior to the action being taken. Similarly, marketing is all about strategy and how a company decides to act. Both marketing and Kantian ethics deal with the pre-action phase. Secondly, Virtue ethics. Seeking to live life by virtues that are means between two vices that determine what a good life is. It is all about, unsurprisingly, virtues. What virtues are considered “good” and how can we as humans obtain and reach these virtues. Advertising preaches virtues, especially with emotional advertising. Companies find a virtue between the two vices of deficiency and excess that they view to be desired by consumers, and attempt to associate their product with that virtue. Thirdly, Utilitarianism. This is consequentialist, seeking to maximize utility in the situation, utility being happiness and/or pleasure. Utilitarianism is concerned with the results of actions, no matter the motives. It asks the question “what action created the most utility for those involved?” Sales, like utilitarianism, is worried about the end results of actions, and actions, in this case, being advertising. Sales aren't just the amount of money a company made on an advertisement, but it's the total result of the ad campaign. Did the companies stock go up or down, affecting the shareholders, did people genuinely enjoy the product after they bought it, did the image of the company improve or tarnish? While yes sales may center around the amount of money the company made or lost, there are still other factors. Fourthly and finally, corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is the need for businesses to be good corporate citizens. It involves going beyond the law's requirements in protecting the environment and contributing to social welfare. Following the belief that companies should pursue a deeper purpose beyond simply maximizing profits for the benefit shareholders. It's concerned with protecting the interests of all stakeholders, such as employees, customers, suppliers, and the communities in which businesses operate. This theory connects to the general idea behind our three ethical theories, and what the businesses jobs are when they do them. Especially when relating to emotional advertising, are we as consumers harmed or helped by companies.
The first case study that we have is Nike and its' Colin Kaepernick campaign. Looking at this from the Kantian point of view, Nike's motives are to first and foremost, sell a product, but they are also seeking to inspire people to chase dreams. While the athletes in the commercial are wearing Nike gear, they aren't advertising the gear, but rather themselves and the ideas they are preaching. Nike is seeking to motivate dream chasers. In this way, a Kantian might see that Nike is attempting to treat people as not merely as a means because yes while they want them to buy the product, that part of the “ad” is toned down and more focused on the actions it wants people to take, regardless if they buy their product or not. They don't say “chase your dreams, but only with Nike gear on.” From a virtue ethics perspective, there are two ways to look at this. The first is the virtues Nike is preaching towards its consumers and that they hope represent their company by having athletes in the commercial that they believe represent those virtues. The second is the virtues Nike hopes to inadvertently associate with their company by doing a risky and bold statement like this. In the result of this action that Nike made and utilitarianism, it is hard to fully calculate the total utility gained or lost by the decision Nike made. The company made lots of money off this campaign and many people publicly came out stating they were inspired, but there was still a number of people whose utility decreased because of the Nike actions, those that were offended by Nike's decision. In terms of CSR, we question the idea of Nike's job in this situation, is it just to simply sell their products and the manipulation of people's emotion is wrong? Or was it to bring the issues of social justice they talked about in the commercial to light and inspire people to live more socially empowered lives? It truly depends on opinion in this situation and how one believes that businesses should be run.
Our other case study had to do with Dove and their “real moms” campaign. Again in the perspective of a Kantian, Dove's main goal is to make a profit. However once again, in the commercial, the Dove products are not the center of the commercial. The ad centers around empowering all different types of women and mothers to be confident in themselves. Dove tells stories of out-of-the-box mothers and seeks to tell mothers that are watching that the standard and stereotypical way of being a mother isn't the only proper way. This ties into virtue ethics and the virtues that Dove is preaching to its consumers. Dove has certain virtues that it deems as desirable and especially desirable to mothers that it preaches and highlights in the commercial. In the perspective of utilitarianism, Dove, like Nike, experience a very high profit following the introduction of this advertisement. Unlike Nike, Dove received very little backlash to the ad. This begs the question, with no public backlash to the ad, did Dove's decision to air this ad maximize utility? However, that statement cannot be answered with a resounding yes because there are always ways to interpret ads in a way that you, as a consumer, find offensive or wrong and that therefore decrease your utility. CSR relates very similarly back to Nike, is it really Dove's job in this situation to manipulate the views of the ad? However, CSR does talk about a companies job being to improve people's lives and pursuing a deeper motive and result than simply profits. To find that deeper result, the reaction to the ad must be taken on a person-by-person basis because not every person is the same and will have the same results and reactions to it.
When it comes down to it, the ethics of Marketing, Advertising, and Sales truly depend on your opinion and view of businesses and companies. Can a Kantian truly believe that companies can have other motives than just simply money? If they cannot, the debate will simply end because that Kantian will view businesses themselves as unethical and therefore the actions they take will be unethical. Is there truly an ethical way to sell the things we desire in our lives today? There is, but it begins not with end results and large ideas of marketing, advertising, and sales, but rather it starts with us. The people. Today in our society we often value a dollar bill amount over another human being, which is wrong. The ethics of business come back down to the ethics of people, and if people can live their lives treating others with kindness and valuing people over money. When people, in masses, systematically start changing the way they think, then there can truly be an ethical way to sell products. It does not start with multi-million dollar corporations and giant ideals, but with us in our everyday life. As change starts, however slow, it will grow and grow until it fills the world around us. But it has to start. Only then, can the world change.
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