Marketing Ethics

Companies often must choose between taking the high road and making the decent decision versus taking the low road and breaching their customers’ trust. Tylenol took the high road when someone tampered with its pills.

It immediately recalled and destroyed its stock. Intel took the middle road because it hesitated to replace a chip that had a minor defect. Ford on occasions has taken the low road by denying faults with some of its cars.

Business practices are often under attack because business situations routinely pose tough ethical dilemmas. One can go back to Howard Bowen’s classic questions about the responsibilities of a business person:
Should he conduct selling in ways that intrude on the privacy of people, for example, by door-to-door selling ... ? Should he use methods involving ballyhoo, chances, prizes, hawking, and other tactics which are at least of doubtful good taste? Should he employ “high pressure” tactics in persuading people to buy? Should he try to hasten the obsolescence of goods by bringing out an endless succession of new models and new styles? Should he appeal to and attempt to strengthen the motives of materialism, invidious consumption, and “keeping up with the Joneses”?


The most admired companies abide by a code of serving people’s interests, not only their own. The Reputation Institute and Harris Interactive collect ratings by the public on the companies they admire the most.

The top 15 in 2001 (in order) are Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Intel, 3M, Sony, HewlettPackard, FedEx, Maytag, IBM, Disney, General Electric, Dell, Procter & Gamble, and United Parcel Service (UPS). These companies are notable for their products, service levels, and corporate philanthropy. Their reputations and trustworthiness add to their pocketbooks.

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