5.2 Ethical Marketing Issues

Learning Objectives

Describe the types of ethical issues that marketing must address

We will begin by introducing definitions to clarify ethical terms and then turn to the issues that marketing professionals most often encounter.

If you’ve taken other business courses, you’ve probably studied business ethics and have some familiarity with examples of corporate malfeasance (which is a fancy term for unethical behaviour). Business ethics promote conduct based on integrity and trust, but more complex issues include accommodating diversity, privacy and governance that are consistent with the organization’s core values. According to the 2019 Global Business Ethics Survey[1] (https://43wli92bfqd835mbif2ms9qz-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019-Global-Business-Ethics-Survey-Report.pdf) 25% of employees still feel that their senior managers do not have a good understanding of key ethical and compliance business risks across the organization.

Ethical challenges in marketing are not new. In 1977, 70% of managers were concerned about marketing issues. Common worries remain but the priorities and complexities have changed. The top three ethical issues in 1977 were bribes, price discrimination and unfair pricing, and dishonest advertising. In 1977, digital marketing (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/digital-marketing.asp) did not exist. [2] With e-marketing creating real time feedback and interaction,  professionals today face additional questions including: privacy, security and storage, anti-spam, and most recently content management with the tension between hate and free speech, online harassment and bullying.

Wish to learn more?

Listen to a Podcast with this Link
Listen to podcast

Listen to the CBC podcast (https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1760602691910) that discusses the growing advertizing crisis Facebook is facing with the boycott of over 800 companies. Does Facebook and Google have too much power and know too much about us? Do we need to create laws to regulate Facebook?[3]

Today with digital marketing, technology and globalization, the list of ethical marketing demands has evolved. The Canadian Marketing Association’s (CMA) Canadian Marketing Code of Ethics and Standards (https://www.the-cma.org/Media/Default/Downloads/Regulatory/2020/CMA-Canadian-Marketing-Code-of-Ethics-and-Standards.pdf) attempts to create guidelines to follow but the reality is ethical practices often lag behaviours and rules.

In this section, you’ll learn more about these issues and the challenges in overcoming them. As with ethics in general, the line between ethical behaviour and unethical behaviour can be very fine indeed.


Learning Activities

  • Reading: Defining Ethics
  • Reading: Common Ethical Issues in Marketing
  • Reading: New Challenges in Marketing Ethics
  • Reading: Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Self Check: Ethical Marketing Issues


  1. ECI. (2019). Global differences in employees’ views of E&C program maturity: 2019 global business ethics survey. https://43wli92bfqd835mbif2ms9qz-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019-Global-Business-Ethics-Survey-Report.pdf
  2. Brenner, S. N, & Molander, E. A. (1977). "Is the Ethics of Business Changing" Harvard Business Review 55: 57-71
  3. CBC. (2020, July 5). Can an ad boycott fix Facebook’s hate speech problem? Frontburner. https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1760602691910


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