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Running head: ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS 1

Ethical Implications of Target Marketing

Jhembert Perdomo

MKT/554 – Consumer Behavior

April 12, 2010

Jim Lyons
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Ethical Implications of Target Marketing

“Target Marketing involves breaking a market into segments and then concentrating your

marketing efforts on one or a few key segments. The beauty of target marketing is that it makes

the promotion, pricing and distribution of your products and/or services easier and more cost-

effective. Target marketing provides a focus to all of your marketing activities” (Ward, 2010).

If a large toy manufacturer such as Mattel decides to target its latest hot wheels® race

track to boys between the ages of 6 and 10 with heavy advertising in the cartoon network

nobody will ever challenge that because safe toys and boys are meant for each other; however, if

a company such as R. J. Reynolds deploys moderate advertisement for its Kool brand in a

skateboarding magazine such as Thrasher portraying some “tricked out” green skateboards, some

groups may find the potential targeting of teenagers and young adults alike unethical even

though cigarettes are a legal product available to adults 18 years of age and older who also read

the magazine.

So the question is how come other products perceived as harmful yet legal such as alcohol

and firearms don’t face the same level of scrutiny? Media reports suggest that criticism arises

when products considered by society to be inherently or potentially harmful are targeted to

market segments that are disadvantaged in some way. Laczniak and Murphy (1993) draw a

distinction between products that are harmful to all users, such as cigarettes, and those that are

potentially harmful when abused, such as alcohol or firearms (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy,

1997).

Disadvantaged segments involve those consumers that because of their age, background,

economical or even physical condition among others cannot make an informed, educated or even

a rational decision; on the other hand, companies that choose to target these customers with
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potentially harmful products while being fully aware of their current conditions may be

perceived as unethical as well as their actions.

Companies such as McDonald’s have received great criticism for targeting children by

using their happy meals with toys and Ronald McDonald to introduce them to some products

high in fat and calories that can eventually contribute to a growing obese population in the

United States. The criticism has gone as far as to the courts where a class action lawsuit against

McDonald’s was dismissed in 2003 (Wald, 2003). McDonald’s has addressed the criticism by

using zero trans fat oil and by now promoting healthier choices such as salads and wraps.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) in its ethical norms indicates that marketers

should not harm, should foster truth in the marketing system and embrace ethical values

(American Marketing Association, 2010). One of the ethical values is responsibility which they

define as “to accept the consequences of our marketing decisions and strategies” (American

Marketing Association, 2010); so since they AMA is not a regulatory entity then what can it do

to ensure that target marketing is not exploited? Perhaps the best approach to answer this

question is by proposing that the AMA takes advantage of the power of social media and its

online communities; unethical companies can take advantage of ignorance, naiveness and lack of

judgement of some consumers so by developing campaigns that can educate them, consumers

can make more informed decisions; therefore, leveling the field.

Having several groups in Facebook, one for alcohol, another one for tobacco and so on as

well as having key promoters of this initiative blog on Twitter can have a great impact in our

youth since Facebook’s largest demographic concentration remains the college crowd of 18-24

year olds (40.8%) (Corbett, 2009).


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Conclusion

Although target marketing is a strategy proven effective to maximize the results of a company’s

marketing efforts, it can become an unethical practice when the promotion of products that

society perceives as potentially harmful is made to a group of consumers that are in some way in

disadvantage whether because of their age, level of education, economical situation, etc. The

American Marketing Association can level the field by educating consumers through the use of

social media and power of online communities.


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Bibliography

American Marketing Association. (2010). Statement of Ethics . Retrieved April 10, 2010, from

Marketing Power: http://www.marketingpower.com/AboutAMA/Pages/Statement%20of

%20Ethics.aspx

Corbett, P. C. (2009, January 5). 2009 Facebook Demographics and Statistics Report. Retrieved

April 11, 2010, from istrategylabs.com: http://www.istrategylabs.com/2009/01/2009-facebook-

demographics-and-statistics-report-276-growth-in-35-54-year-old-users/

Rittenburg, T. L., & Parthasarathy, M. (1997). Ethical implications of target market selection.

Retrieved April 10, 2010, from University of Maryiland University College:

http://polaris.umuc.edu/~rouellet/tman613sp99/suppread/Paper23.htm#Citation

Wald, J. (2003, February 17). McDonald's obesity suit tossed. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from

cnn.com: http://money.cnn.com/2003/01/22/news/companies/mcdonalds/

Ward, S. (2010). Target Marketing. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from About.com:

http://sbinfocanada.about.com/od/marketing/g/targetmarketing.htm