Ethics in Advertising: Differences in Industry Values and Student Perceptions
Keith, Nancy K., Pettijohn, Charles E., Burnett, Melissa S., Academy of Marketing Studies Journal
College students represent the employees and executives of tomorrow. Therefore it is likely the ethical perceptions and standards students bring to their new jobs will largely influence their behaviors as advertisers. Knowledge of their ethical perceptions, as students, should provide insights into what eventually could be their behaviors in the world of business. Based on this assumption, the purpose of this research is to empirically compare the ethical perceptions of college advertising students with the ethical perceptions of advertising executives to determine the base point from which future employers will have to work.
This type of research is important because the public's ethical perceptions of business people in general, and marketers in particular, are generally quite low. Studies have found that business executives were rated among the lowest ranked professional categories in terms of their images (Lantos, 1999; Luther et al., 1997; Wulfson, 1998). Furthermore, Sales and Marketing Management (2005) reports the results of a survey showing only 17% of Americans trust business leaders of major corporations. The negative consequences of unethical business activities, with regard to their impact on investors and customers, have been discussed by many scholars and business practitioners (Lantos, 1999; Schwepker, 1999; Trease et al., 1994).
Most research has discovered that firms which are perceived as being unethical are less profitable, have negative customer attitudes to overcome, etc. The same holds true with regard to the effect of unethical perceptions of corporate behavior on the corporation's investors (Lantos, 1999; Trease et al., 1994). As investors lose confidence in business, they become less likely to invest their savings in those businesses, which in turn increases the cost of capital to the business, resulting in financial challenges. While many firms have huge public relations departments and advertising budgets charged with elevating businesses' public image, many discover their investments are either wasted or too small to rectify ethical lapses their firms have experienced. Thus, unethical behaviors have been shown to have numerous deleterious outcomes for businesses as they relate to their customers and investors (Lantos, 1999; Mantel, 2005; Schwepker, 1999).
Businesses should care what their employees think because employee perceptions can influence employee behaviors. While one could argue that a business or businesses in general should behave ethically to establish goodwill with their customers and with investors, the argument could be advanced that ethical business behavior may also create positive outcomes with regard to the firm's employees (Sales and Marketing Management, 2006).
According to research, an individual's general attitudes may lead one to reject certain careers due to their perceptions of the roles they will play (Sparkes and Johlke, 1996) or face cognitive dissonance in their roles, leading to dissatisfaction (McFarland, 2003). Hunt and Chonko (1987) conclude that an employee's ethical problems with his/her employer negatively affect his/her relationships with co-workers and performance. A current assessment of the attitudes of marketing students are important, as universities have made efforts to emphasize the importance of ethics. Nearly every course offered in the marketing curriculum contains an "ethics module." Has this module affected the ethical perceptions of marketing students? Do marketing students believe that "good ethics is good business?" How do these marketing students' perceptions relate to the perceptions of advertising practitioners? Do perceptions vary based on gender? Experience? These questions are addressed in this research.
Business ethics are critical factors from a manager's perspective. The critical nature of ethics is not solely based on the societal implications of ethical behavior, but ethical concerns are also based on their economic and business implications. …