The American Marketing Association (AMA) provides a lengthy Statement of Ethics on their website. Following the preamble and statement of norms, the organization describes the values of an ethical marketer as honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency, and citizenship. Through explain of these points, the statement does manage to capture the keys to an ethical marketing career. The most important pieces of the AMA Statement of Ethics are its guidelines for responsibility, fairness, and respect.
Responsibility, as defined by the AMA, involves recognizing unique duties in dealing with vulnerable segments (children, seniors, the economically impoverished, etc.), the social obligations that come with significant marketing/economic power, and the environmental impact of decisions. This value is very pertinent to several contemporary marketing issues. For example, the issues around race and gender in advertising stem from failure on the part of marketers to consider – or acknowledge – the impact of their message on society. In this case, marketing has a very unique ability to create and reinforce stereotypes, gender roles, and societal expectations. Often times, ignorance or irresponsibility has led to inaccurate, offensive, or generally detrimental portrayals of specific groups. Over time, this imagery has a profound impact on how others are treated. Responsibility in marketing prevents the creation and propagation negative generalizations. A responsible marketer understands and recognizes the impact of both their message and means by which it is conveyed. Responsibility forces a marketer to examine the effects of their actions beyond monetary terms.
Fairness encompasses a key difficulty in marketing; the marketer’s duty to the company and the customer. The AMA identifies that fairness includes clear and truthful messaging, establishing trust through fair practices, avoiding conflicts of interest, and protecting the privacy of clients, coworkers, and partners. Fairness incorporates aspect of other values like honesty and transparency. Fairness is at the heart of many contemporary marketing issues. The issue of planned obsolescence stems from a lack of fairness. Planned obsolescence is the practice in which products are intentionally designed to break, fail, or otherwise require replacement after certain period of time. Often, this practice involves frequent “new” models with only minor changes and termination of support and spare parts to older models. Marketers play into the system by exaggerating differences between new and old models, misrepresenting product longevity/durability, and being deliberately ambiguous with release schedules. A fair marketer works toward an open and honest customer relationship. They would view products designed to fail or become obsolete after a short period as a violation of this relationship. They would also oppose spreading messaging that represents such products without indicating their short-term or disposable nature. If this stance puts the marketer in contact with business management, they should make the case that the relationship created through fair and honest exchanges will prove more profitable in the long-term, create greater customer satisfaction, and a more positive brand image. Fairness is requires a marketer to balance duties to company and consumers, creating a transparent and beneficial relationship with both entities.
Respect is a key ethical area because it encompasses many aspects that are sometimes passed over by marketers. Respect for customers requires the sales to be approached as a relationship. It entails listening to reasonable requests and providing strong customer service. Marketers have a duty to understand and respect all those involved in their distribution channels, from manufacturers to retail. Respect also requires that marketers the contributions of coworkers, consultants, and employees. Respect even extends to competitors. Respect is a key issue in the case of overseas manufacturing. Many companies are content to turn a blind eye to poor conditions in the factories that manufacture their products. Respect for manufacturers requires that companies care enough to ensure that their products are made by those in reasonable working conditions. For marketers, this issue means twofold. First, marketers whose companies do practice fair trade should make a concerted effort to emphasize this point. In doing so, they add value to the label through increase recognition. Ideally, this will push the fair trade label toward becoming a requirement – at least in the eyes of consumers. Second, for companies do not operate to fair trade standards, marketers have a duty to make the information on their manufacturing process available, though not necessarily promote it. Ideally, informed consumers will access this information and impact the company enough to spur change. Respect forces marketers to look throughout the entire business process. Respectful relationships benefit all involved, from manufacturer to end user.
The three aspects of responsibility, fairness, and respect comprise the most important components of the AMA Statement of Ethics. Despite the value of these points, they can be lost in the length and ambiguity of the statement. To improve, the American Marketing association should consolidate its statement to focus on these core values. Additionally, the association should make the statement more applicable by demonstrating these principals through examples and case studies. Rather than breaking the industry down by individual values, it should focus on values through activities of the industry. For example, the American Marketing Association should provide guidelines specific to advertising, public relations, and market research. The changes make the AMA statement more specific and readily usable. Currently, the Value Statement of the American Marketing Association contains the vital information to act as an ethical marketer, but some of its effect is lost in excess verbiage.