Misleading Marketing

Ethical Dilemma: Misleading Marketing
University Title
Ethical Dilemma: Misleading Marketing
Good advertising transfers the message of the benefits of the service or product to
prospective buyers and convinces them to purchase. Nevertheless, with increased
competition, companies are opting for unethical and misleading marketing drives to attract
more clients. Sales teams are tasked with the responsibility of crafting brand messages that
often tantalize the senses and ensnare the mind. With little or absolutely no time to verify the
messages seen on advertisements, the public becomes prone to trust these ads since they
believe that the messengers are more informed about the services and products that are on
sale. Promising what one cannot deliver may boost sales in the short-term, but in the long
run, results in discontented clients, which lead to the risk of bad reputation and publicity and
potential legal action. Corporations that operate in countries that have lenient corporate laws
are likely to get away with such practices despite being highly unethical. This paper will
analyze the precarious situation in which James, a newly recruited Manager for Sales and
Marketing in a local firm found himself in with regard to misleading marketing requests from
his superiors.
James is the typical ‘go-getter’ type of individual. His success in recent years in
marketing had prompted organizations from downtown New York to seek his services in
earnest. James had served in the U.S. Marine Corp and had become a respected scout sniper,
having served in Fallujah and Mosul in his first and second deployment at the height of the
Iraq War. As such, he was committed to service and was guided by the principles of hard
work, resilience, honesty, and integrity. These fundamentals shaped his character for the six
years that he served in the U.S. Marines and played a pivotal role in the successes he realized
in marketing for the relatively short period he worked in the private sector. Within three
years, he had become the most sought-after marketer in New York. Being the soldier he was
born to be, he enjoyed challenges and his new role as the Manager in the Sales and Marketing
Department in his latest assignment was surely going to provide one such challenge.
Part of James’ assignment involved crafting advertisements that would appear on
television and popular magazines. By the time he was taking over his new role, there were
some ads that were pending authorization from the Head of Sales and Marketing, which
happened to be the office he was leading. He requested for more time to go through them and
evaluate given his experience. One of the ads involved the company’s second most traded
product, a certain yogurt brand, which the company had proposed to market as
“scientifically” and “clinically” proven to assist in regulating digestion and improving the
immune system of the consumer. Upon querying further the supporting documents, there
were no scientific studies to support this marketing gimmick.
In marketing, there is a huge disparity between making false claims and pushing the
truth. In many cases, marketers make up contextual stories based on intuition to push sales of
their products. Kahneman, Lovallo, and Sibony (2011 p. 52) note that this overdependence on
intuition can lead someone astray owing to cognitive biases. The use of terms such as
“guaranteed results” and “scientifically proven” are some of the common cognitive biases
that occur among marketers that often attract heavy penalties and lead to a damaged
reputation. A cognitive bias is a systematic deviation from rationality or the established norm
in judgment and often results in illogical and inaccurate judgments, as well as perceptual
distortion. Zollo, Pellegrini, and Ciappei (2017 p. 691-692), nevertheless propose a model
based on Synderesis (innate Synderesis), which they argue may influence moral reasoning
directly, inclining towards goodness. Zollo et al. (2017 p. 681) defines Synderesis as an
inherent human faculty that continuously inclines decision-makers towards universal moral
principles. Synderesis is thus intuitively inclined towards moral and correct judgment. The
proposal to market the product as “scientifically proven” without any scientific research to
support such claims is immoral and unethical.
James finds himself in a tight spot given that he is a new entrant. Being a new
appointee, he did not want to appear being a difficult colleague, but at the same time, what
was being proposed was against his ideals. As part of our discussion, I would point out why
he should be guided by ethical practice and I would support his hesitation, given that he did
the right thing. My advice to James, therefore, is to ask for more time and approach the issue
delicately, informing the top management of his reservations and reasons for having second
thoughts about such an ad. It would be best to gather material evidence to prove why such a
move would prove more costly for the company both in the short-term and in the long-term.
Signing on such an ad would prove suicidal on his part, and that of the company he currently
works for. It would also be best to seek alternative wording for the ad in the meantime,
seeking alternative ways as proposed by Ruwan Weerasekera in the case study outlined by
Sucher and Preble (2017 p. 143).
Kahneman, D., Lovallo, D., & Sibony, O. (2011). How Great Leaders Unleash Innovation.
Havard Business Review, 49-60.
Sucher, S., & Preble, M. (2017). Follow Dubious Orders or Speak Up?: An Intern
Contemplates Whether She Should Compromise Her Values for a Job. Havard
Business Review, 139-144.
Zollo, L., Pellegrini, M. M., & Ciappei, C. (2017). What sparks ethical decision making? The
interplay between moral intuition and moral reasoning: lessons from the scholastic
doctrine. Journal of Business Ethics, 145(4), 681-700.

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