79 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.

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 2021 Global Business Ethics Survey, [1] perceived employee pressure to violate their organization’s ethics was at the highest level since 2000.

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 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.

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Listen to the CBC podcast Can an ad boycott fix Facebook’s hate speech problem?

Facebook is facing a growing advertising crisis with the boycott of over 800 companies. Do 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 American Marketing Associate Statement of Ethics attempts to create guidelines to follow but the reality is that ethical practices often lag behaviors 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 behavior and unethical behavior 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


  1. ECI. (2021). The State of Ethics & Compliance In The Workplace: A Look at Global Trends: 2021 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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Introduction to Marketing - MKTG 3433 Copyright © 2022 by WCOB Marketing Faculty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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