Merrily Orsini's Thought Leadership

Do No Harm

The problem with Bud Light’s current marketing strategy isn’t its effectiveness or its accuracy, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s the colors.

An article in The Wall Street Journal quotes Janet Evans, an attorney for the agency, as saying that the FTC has “grave concerns” over a campaign by Anheuser-Busch to roll out Bud Light cans branded with the colors of various college sports teams. The reason for Evans’ worries? Despite the assurances of company executives that the special cans will only be sold at retailers whose customers are 21 years and older, the FTC believes the promotion may encourage underage and binge drinking on college campuses. As a result, the FTC is recommending that Anheuser-Busch drop the promotion.

It might seem odd that federal regulators would deign to intrude upon what would appear to be a legitimate marketing strategy, but it’s not the first time the move has been made. In the late 1990s, Congress placed considerable pressure on R.J. Reynolds to discontinue the marketing of its “Joe Camel” mascot on the grounds that it targeted young people. The tobacco company complied in July 1997.

Regardless of where you fall on these issues, both controversies shed light on the fine line that sometimes falls between legitimate business practices and unethical marketing behavior. Even the best intentioned of companies can find themselves making questionable marketing decisions if they rush into a marketing promotion without taking the time to consider all of the ramifications.

In an effort to reinforce the importance of ethical marketing practices, the American Marketing Association has created a Statement of Ethics to serve as best practices for its members. The statement outlines a number of “ethical values,” including honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship. The core responsibility of marketers, according to the statement? Do no harm.

“This means consciously avoiding harmful actions or omissions by embodying high ethical standards and adhering to all applicable laws and regulations in the choices we make,” the statement explains.

Some, unconvinced that the marketing industry is able to police itself, argue for increased government intrusion into branding practices.

“Are marketers really concerned with the welfare of their customers, or are they more concerned about the ‘bottom line’ of the organization they represent?” asks James Stephenson in an article posted on Ezinearticles.com. “A change is coming, and has already started, in how consumers and organizations must view the marketing profession; a more ‘holistic’ approach towards customers is required. In that regard, companies must consider all aspects of their relationship with the consumers, not just their own goals.”

Failure to do so could result in increased government regulation, fears Stephenson.

While some welcome the idea of federal intrusion, others despise it. Some might question the ethics of a company trying to get consumers to eat frozen pizza instead of fruit for breakfast. Others would instead argue that any such marketing is fair game and if consumers choose to chow down on pepperoni instead of bananas as they watch the morning news, then, well, it’s their own doggone fault.

As noted above, it is sometimes a thin line.

We at corecubed are committed to abiding by the highest ethical standards while at the same time maximizing the return-on-investment for all your marketing endeavors. Our commitment to excellence has won us the respect of innovative companies in the health care, education and construction industries, as well as several other business verticals. To learn more, give us a call!