Moreover, the ethical perspectives of Immanuel Kant’s “categorical imperative” and Michel Foucault’s philosophy on power will help further the analysis of the ethics of nontraditional marketing. Following these guidelines, this paper will, hopefully, explain the ethicalities of the specified marketing behavior by advertising companies to unsuspecting consumers. Guerrilla On the Loose Postmodernism and the ever-changing popular culture have shaped a new era of advertising.
People are becoming less and less susceptible to traditional advertisements such as commercials, branding, billboards, and newspaper or magazine ads. For these reasons and the recession, advertising firms searched for newer and cheaper ways to advertise to the public. However, this non-traditional way of advertising brings about questions of ethics due to the invasiveness and harm it can cause. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the ethics of non-traditional marketing by advertisers.
This will be achieved through defining each aspect of non-traditional marketing, looking at the topic through the Potter Box, comparing it with official guidelines, analyzing through Immanuel Kant’s and Michel Foucault’s perspectives, and using examples of questionable non-traditional marketing strategies. The non-traditional marketing this paper will look at is called guerrilla marketing. According to David Hickman (2007), guerrilla marketing “was first defined as ‘an unconventional way of performing promotional activities on a ery low budget’” but now “is a more loosely defined term, and is more of a general description, for an entire category of many differing types of non-traditional marketing methods” (p. 1).
The referred category includes astroturfing, stealth (undercover) and viral marketing, and Grassroots. University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication defined astroturfing best, in that it is an act that “denotes political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but are disguised as spontaneous, popular ‘grassroots’ behavior” (p. ). Grassroots refers to a marketing strategy that revolves around word-of-mouth, telemarketing phone calls/messages, public speeches, etc. Stealth marketing is, in essence, undercover marketing. Consumers who remain unaware that they are being marketed to are the goal of this style of marketing. According to Wilson (2005), an E-Commerce Consultant, viral marketing, on the other hand, “describes any strategy that encourages [consumers] to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence” (p. 1).
Examples of viral marketing are e-mailing (usually forwarding), social networking, and blogging. Each style of marketing requires minimum cost and effort (especially in the viral marketing case), meaning they fall into the guerrilla category perfectly. Attitudes of consumers toward a product mean everything to the advertiser. However, consumers are becoming increasingly irritated with the amount of advertisements displayed to them on a daily basis, prompting more companies to use the guerrilla marketing strategy, where the intentions are to keep the consumer unaware that they are being marketed to.
In layman’s terms, a guerrilla advertisement “’sticks’ by not appearing to be an ad, in effect slipping under the consumers’ well-tuned ad radar” (Christians, 2009, p. 133). This raises the question of whether it is ethical for companies to market their brand or product by non-traditional means. Christians explains (in regards to guerrilla marketing) “…at one end, we see private enterprise at its most inventive, working, sometimes ingeniously, to reach potential customers and sell them something.
At the other end, we have practices that some have labeled deceptive, intrusive, and offensive. ” (2009, p. 133). Canan Ay, Pinar Aytekin, and Sinan Nardali (2010) further this statement by stating “other ethical problems of guerilla marketing include the trespassing on private property, defacing private or public property and not getting permission from the property owners…Pictures or pamphlets placed illegally on other places (public buses, bus stops, building walls) also point out the same problem. ” (p. 284).
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) provide guidelines and/or codes of ethics that should be followed when advertising to consumers. The FTC states that, “advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers” nor “affect consumers’ behavior or decisions about the product or service” (2000, p. 1-2). Moreover, “claims must be substantiated, especially when they concern health, safety, or performance” (p. 2). The PRSA values include advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness.
In the honesty section of the Member Statement of Professional Values, it claims that PRSA members “adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those [PRSA members] represent and in communicating with the public. ” (2000, p. 2). Also, the PRSA identifies its intent as to “build trust with the public by revealing all information needed for responsible decision making. ” (p. 4). By establishing the code and/or guideline of how the advertising community should practice, this paper can now analyze guerrilla marketing through a legal and ethical gaze.
By putting non-traditional marketing through the Potter Box, the values, principle, and loyalties are identified. Values include stealth (indiscretion), impact/magnitude, human interest, immediacy, novelty and entertainment, pleasing, imaginative, and cheap. The conflict between these values and the FTC guidelines are apparent, especially with the stealth value and the ‘do-not-mislead-the-consumer’ clause. The principle chosen to analyze this type of marketing is Michel Foucault’s philosophy on power.
With non-traditional means of advertising, advertisers can shape the behavior of consumers and basically decide for the consumer what ‘they’ wish or need to buy. Foucault’s philosophy derives from the idea that all social interactions in society are directed and manipulated by those who have power. This includes different aspects of power. For example, students act differently around professors (in a more submissive and respectful manner), because they have the power over grades, than they would with peers.
In relation to advertising, through the use of traditional and non-traditional marketing, advertisers have the ability to manipulate what consumers look at (essentially think about) and what they decide to buy. Therefore, public relation and advertising firms have the power that controls society’s markets. This determines the stock market as well, as in how many people buy shares of a company (that advertised their product or brand in a way that produced a great influx of money due to swaying the consumers buying behavior) at a specific price.
Non-traditional marketing, however, is more under-the-scope and the consumers, most of the time, unknowingly have their emotions toward a certain product determined for them. Furthermore, the loyalties that derive from this marketing style are to the companies that pay PR and advertising firms to market their product and/or brand. Although traditional marketing would have a different outcome when put through the Potter Box, non-traditional marketing still falls under the same standards in marketing in regards to the FTC and PRSA.
Certain examples of guerrilla marketing provide questionable ethics that will be examined henceforth. In 2006, Hollywood Records received considerable amount of publicity due to the signing of a supposed rising YouTube star, Marie Digby (Smith and Lattman, 2007, p. 1). Marie blogged about how surprising her newfound fame was, even though it was later established that she had already signed with the record company 18 months prior to the official press release signing (in 2005).
As it turned out, her Internet rise to fame was a strategy procured by Hollywood Records. Her popularity had originally grown from the public’s interest in performances through unofficial mediums. The lack and manipulation of information to the public, which brought Hollywood Records a substantial amount of money, would be considered by Kant a violation of honesty in the advertising industry. Christians (2009) explains another example of dishonesty in advertising through guerrilla marketing: “John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. posted messages under a false identity on Yahoo Finance stock forums for eight years. Using the pseudonym ‘Rahodeb’, an anagram of his wife’s name, Deborah, Mackey “routinely cheered Whole Foods’ financial results, trumpeted his personal gains on the stock, and bashed Wild Oats,” which Whole Foods was trying to acquire. At one point, ‘Rahodeb’ noted that “Oats has no value and no future. ” The postings came to light in documents filed with the FTC, which sought to block the acquisition. ” (p. 133).
This non-traditional marketing strategy raises the question of how a consumer can ever trust a product when situations like this occur. Loyal fans of the blog that trusted Rahodeb’s postings as a credible source of news were in for a rude awakening, upon learning that there was a hidden intention of the blog to manipulate the buying behavior of the fans/potential consumers. Foucault would suggest that it was the consumers’ fault if they “bought” into the blog and shaped their buying behavior around it without doing more research on the topics posted.
He’d also say that it would not be surprising if Whole Foods profits increased due to the blog because those who advertise and are capable of manipulating the public have the power in society. The last advertisement is a perfect example of astroturfing. Christians (2009), again, describes Sony Ericsson’s “Fake Tourist” advertising strategy best: “Sixty actors wandered the streets of Seattle and New York City asking others to take pictures of them using their [new Sony Ericsson] camera phones. This effort aroused considerable debate about forthrightness in nontraditional marketing. ” (p. 133).
This advertising scheme would be defined as astroturfing because the intention was to arouse interest and publicity of the new phone by having actors pretend to be peers of the unpaid consumers they were walking among and marketing to. By identifying the definition of non-traditional marketing, exploring the marketing style through the Potter Box, examining it through multiple ethical perspectives (Immanuel Kant and Michel Foucault) and providing examples of questionable marketing behavior (Hollywood Records, Sony Ericsson, and Jack Mackey’s blog), this paper was able to answer the question of whether non-traditional marketing is ethical.