Magazine article Marketing

Taking the Moral High Ground

Magazine article Marketing

Taking the Moral High Ground

Article excerpt

Marketers should put the boot on the other foot and become the consumer. Would they be happy to receive their profession's offers? If they did would they feel misled? Stan Rapp calls for honesty

The news of the bill banning all types of cigarette advertising in the UK serves only to increase the resolve of most direct marketers and the tobacco "freedom fighters" in the US to resist legislation here.

Cigarette media advertising is on a downward spiral in the US while each year more money goes into database-driven marketing aimed at individual smokers. "Tobacco companies are learning they don't need traditional media as much anymore. Instead they're creating their own channels that talk directly to smokers," according to Michael Wolf of Booz, Allen and Hamilton in Business Week.

Rather than jump for joy at this development, as you might expect from an advocate of targeted marketing, I had an opposite reaction. My recent syndicated column recommended that direct marketers everywhere in the world say "no" when the tobacco merchants come calling because I think promoting cigarettes is wrong whether it is legal or not.

Marketers who talk endlessly about "getting close to the customer" and being responsive to the needs of people are often the last to realise the importance of ethical choices in long-term business success.

Instead of responding to the medical and scientific evidence linking smoking and disease with a forthright consumer education campaign, the tobacco industry continues to pursue what the Wall Street Journal describes in a recent article as "the longest-running misinformation campaign in business history".

Before going on to a broader look at the interplay between ethics and advertising, here is how differently another controversial industry, alcoholic beverages, handles the question of right and wrong in the messages they send to the American people.

At the start of last year's holiday season, Seagram placed a heavyweight media schedule behind a blunt ad suggesting that drinking responsibly sometimes means "not drinking at all". The campaign was part of a barrage of ads from distillers and beer marketers eager to show their social responsibility.

Kent DeFelice, executive vice-president at Seagram's ad agency says the ads are meant to show "an honest approach to an honest problem". Seagram has been running so-called responsible drinking ads since 1934 and is a big supporter of the Century Council, a group of brewers and distillers who work with cities on discouraging underage drinking and drinking and driving.

Advertising professionals working at the general agency or with the pacesetting Seagram database operation can feel good about the balanced approach of a client with a product that some critics would like to see advertised a lot less.

Changing perceptions

Meanwhile advertising has the power to get into the mind of the consumer and change the perception of what is good or bad about a product. Today's increasing use of database-driven direct marketing raises that power to a higher level with the ability to modify behaviour of one person at a time.

Each year in the UK and in the US there are more companies turning to individualised marketing strategies. If anything, advertisers who send mailings directly to targeted consumers must be held to a higher ethical standard than mass media advertisers. They target individuals based on what they know about that person's past behaviour. …

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