The American Marketing Association has a statement of ethics that sum up the golden rule as it pertains to marketing. It gives us guidance on not just what we should be doing as marketers, but what values we should hold up as the basis for any action we take. This relates not just to the offers, ads and messaging that we put forth, but to how we conduct business with customers, stakeholders and the community at large.
Critically important are the Ethical Norms of Do no harm and Foster trust in the marketing system. I say critically because all else follows after these. If we do no harm, we ensure that our messaging and methods are safe, truthful and that the products we are representing are not harmful to people, the environment, or society. By fostering trust in the marketing system, we assure that society views our efforts as good- that products and companies act in good faith in their dealings, product design, price, messaging and even how the product is packaged, delivered and disposed of.
When creating an Integrated Marketing Communications plan, these norms, and the ethical values that support them, must be taken into account. The overall SMART goals of the plan as well as the strategies and tactics used need to emulate these norms and values. Consistency of messaging and communications is central to an IMC. Therefore we must also be aware of the potential embellishment from those in the purchase cycle, whether sales people, distributors, retailers, etc, who are attempting to sell the product by deviating from the messaging to fit the opportunity, but in turn are either intentionally or inadvertently misleading or deceiving the consumer. I believe even the creative brief which is shared to all within the sales chain should reinforce the ethical expectations that govern the IMC.
Failure to follow the AMA guidelines can lead to a variety of undesirable consequences. At the lowest level, unhappy customers. These may be lost forever and are far more expensive to replace than adding net new customers. They can spread the negative word, whether on social media or just in their physical circles, and impact future sales. Then we have the worst case, those who choose to litigate. Whether product liability, deceptive advertising, fraud, or any other accusation, the mere claim is harmful to the company, its stakeholders, and products. There are financial implications that can range from nuisance all the way to company-ending. And while the intent of those who put a company in peril may even be good, perhaps not even a personal financial impulse but one to help the company, the damage done is an avalanche that starts with one small rock falling.
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