Several products are banned from being advertised and promoted and marketed. Also, there is a lot of advertiment overload on all channels of marketing communication. In this scenario, stealth marketing is an unethical marketing practice that has become increasingly and disturbingly common. Stealth marketing is also known by names like buzz marketing, undercover marketing or guerilla marketing. The concept of stealth marketing is based on the premise of catching the consumer unawares by marketing in places and ways where it is least expected and often not even identified.
In a very commonly used stealth marketing method, organizations pay people to pose as normal consumers and spread word of mouth about the positive aspects of the products being marketing. In a live example, Sony Eriksson hired employees who posed at tourists at famous tourist attraction and asked others to click their photograph using the newly launched T681 mobile phone as a pretext for discussing the benefits and features of the phone.
Stealth marketing may be considered an innovative approach to marketing but to conservative critics as well as a sizeable proportion of the general public, it appears distasteful and unethical.
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Using unethical marketing practices is generally more prevalent in domains where the consumer cannot quantitatively measure and objectively evaluate the various processes connected with the transactions. Conventionally, in the services sector, unethical marketing practices had a lesser penetration because the consumer could objectively comprehend the various variables that were involved in the purchase. However, with services sector becoming intensely competitive and increasingly deregulated, unethical practices have begun to infiltrate.
Unethical marketing practices in the services sector originate from some attributes of services which distinguish services from good.
(a) Intangibility- Services have a huge magnitude of intangibility as compared to goods. Because of this factor, it become inherent that consumers depend on the salespersons’ advice in evaluating the intangible cues. Thus, the consumers inability to make an informed decision unaided by a salesperson or a person in a similar role makes the consumers vulnerable to unethical marketing practices where services may be overvalued without having that much transfer of value to the consumer.
(b) Inseparability – the services, especially professional services, are generally inseparable from the provider. Thus, in a long time association, consumers tend to become emotionally dependent on the service providers. This leaves them without the ability to objectively evaluate other providers and also make them easy prey to unethical practices.
(c) Nature of product – services are not products that can be maintained in inventory. Thus, there is a tendency among service providers to hard sell and over sell during periods when seasonally demand is low. For example, in the season when income tax returns do not need to be filed, chartered accountants ma try to over sell their services.
Ethical issues in marketing are too many to innumerate separately. We can only hope to club them together and study a general trend in a short paper. Insight into each unethical practice would require a lot more research. However, certain common trends can be noted from the short study conducted here.
Unethical marketing is generally aimed at gaining an unfair advantage in terms of sales growth, market share and brand image. However, whenever unethical practices come to light, the negative impact that they have on each of these three is far too severe. Also, in the present globalized world which has almost perfect information flow across and within markets, unethical marketing practices can come to light with much less effort and are far more damaging than they used to be. The amount of negative publicity generated is unparalleled by another crisis.
In this study, we have not considered the indirect forms of marketing such as fair trade practices. These also come under ethical marketing practices.
In conclusion, it can be said that ethical issues in marketing have gained a lot more importance in recent times. Brand building is a major component of marketing that is directly affected by ethical marketing and in general, ethical business practices. Thus, it is in the favor of organizations to follow ethical marketing as there are lot of returns from it.
(1) Philip Kotler, Kevin Lane Keller, Abraham Koshy, Mithileshwar Jhal, “Marketing Management – a South-Asian perspective”, 13th edition, Pearson Education, pg 525, 625-626
(2) Roy Langer, “CSR and Communication ethics – The case of Stealth Marketing”
(3) Herbert Jack Rotfeld, “The cynical use of marketing to the unwitting consumer”, Auburn University, Alabama, USa
(4) C.P. Rao and Anusorn Singhpakdi, “Marketing ethics – A comparison between services and other marketing professionals”
(5) Geoffrey Klempner, “Ethics and Advertisments”
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