Ethics and profits: When values clash (and the consequences/challenges for marketers)

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William LeMessurier’s response to design deficiencies uncovered after construction of the Citigroup Center is often cited as an example of ethical conduct.

Undoubtedly, you are now aware of Volkswagen’s implication in a scandal to rig emissions testing results — and you’ve probably heard about Martin Shkreli’s decision to increase the price of a life-saving drug Daraprin by more than 5,000 per cent. As well, undoubtedly online advertising distribution claims have been inflated through autobots and machine-based advertising views and clicks — and some publishers think nothing of purchasing dubious traffic to enhance their circulation claims.

If marketing is largely about trust, it looks like quite a few businesses should be getting a failing grade; though their reasoning and actions could be consistent with our need to maintain and enhance our profits and success. (The Daraprin story to me is especially challenging — the concept behind the price increase is that pharmaceutical insurance companies, without any option, would pay the higher fee for the long-available drug, and the manufacturer could reap in the profits at least until generic manufacturers could come up with something less expensive. But the pharmaceutical company says no one will go without the drug who cannot afford it — in other words, the only direct suffering would be to other big, bad corporations.)

Is there any way around the ethical and moral conundrums we see here?

I don’t have good answers, but find some solace in understanding that genuine word-of-mouth reputation still counts far more than any marketing initiative in the long-term viability for most AEC businesses. If  our current clients aren’t satisfied with our services to the level they will stay with us; we can pour incredible sums down the marketing drain only to find it as ineffective as spending it all on advertising to computer bots than to real people.

Conversely, if we reach the stage where our clients will proactively share the good news about how great we are, our businesses can (if we have the capacity of course) grow at an exponential rate without spending much on marketing.

And if we are somewhere in the middle — we have really happy clients but they aren’t broadcasting the word themselves — we can undoubtedly apply solid marketing practices to enhance the word-of-mouth power, and sleep well at night knowing we have not played fast and furious with ethical values.

We should also be thankful for the role of media businesses such as mine. Good journalism can spread the news, sometimes less-than-wonderful, about things that go right or wrong. We are effectively magnifying glasses on the truth. The eyeballs and our reputation help us to sell our primary service — advertising. And if we do it right, we don’t need to fake the numbers to deliver results for our clients.

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