What is ‘Marketing Ethics’?

Posted: September 20, 2010 in Becoming, biopower, capitalism, Ecology of Sensation, ethics, marketing, marketing ethics, Method, Nietzsche

What is the relationship of ethics to marketing (and capitalism more generally)? This opens on to other questions, as I’m fond of saying. Such as where is the social in marketing? Where does the social appear in marketing analysis and textbooks? As I noted in Biopower and Marketing in Grewal and Levy’s marketing textbook, the ethical dilemmas are presenting in pop-out boxes heralded by a stop-sign hand, as if ethics comes to halt business from the outside. The social quandaries, complexities, differences, problems that constitute the ethical moment in business are imposed by laws, morals, norms, ‘humanity.’ Always from the outside.

But this ‘outside ethics’ repeats and consolidates the fundamental fetishism of capitalism: operating through the invisible hand of the market capital confronts an irrational and recalcitrant social realm that it remolds as is necessary for the accumulation of profits.

As we see from the quotes below, even as astute an observer of the viral ambitions of contemporary marketing as Naomi Klein falls into this sense that ‘culture’ (or the social) is outside branding processes. And so for her the answer is to find a suitable ‘balance’ between the overweening ambitions of branding, marketing, logofication, cultural event sponsoring and its albeit impure but still exterior: genuine creativity and human culture. As No Logo becomes increasingly Orwellian further on, we see that there is in fact no exterior to branding today—more and more brands provide the infrastructure for cultural and social events (48). As Klein writes, “Jordan and Nike are emblematic of a new paradigm that eliminates all barriers between branding and culture, leaving no room whatsoever for unmarketed space.” But then one wonders what is the aim of the critique? More balance or the overthrow of our brandworld by jamming its multiplicity of clichés?

Yet is this in fact how capital works? Is this what ethics is for business and marketing? Something that comes from the outside to present a halt in its processes or a crisis of management? My sense is that within marketing this is in fact how ethics is presented in its relationship to business. So there are whistleblowers who go outside of a corporation to expose its unethical practices, who are then celebrated in the media as kinds of heroes of humanity in the face of ‘savage’ business practices operating in a cutthroat capitalist environment.

What if ethics is not thought of as norms to be followed or performed, but material relations that modulate ecologies of sensation along gradients of intensity in terms of their capacities to affect and be affected (Spinoza vs. Kant, Nietzsche against Mill, etc.)? That need not be a turgid, or, worse, pedantic sentence. We mean something very simple by this: if we consider that control-capital modulates the body’s intensive relations by tweaking its habituation-capacities, ethical projects would overcome the diagram of our own domination by creating untimely, transvaluating events of becoming. We need pragmatic diagrams of our domination in order to mutate its ontological conditions.

From Jones, et al, For Business Ethics (London: Routledge, 2005).

Be this as it may, the standard picture that we get of the decision-making process goes like this: the manager collects the evidence, models a set of potential answers, and then makes a decision on what actions should taken…Frankly, we do not think that it is helpful to think about these issues as if they are just a matter of autonomous moral choice. They believe that this is possible is based on a willingness to exclude many matters as if they were a form of background noise. This noise includes organizational and financial structures, the position of the manager and management education, the relationships between first world and third world, the nature of work and employment, and so on. Incredibly, the common sense of global capitalism and market managerialism typically ends up being ‘outside’ business ethics. Finally…there is then the question of whether business ethics will actually make businesses more ethical. Here, business ethicists are generally more cautious, and justifiably so. For a start, they do not raise expectations too high. Their goals very rarely include any form of radical social change. The heart of the matter is gentle and polite reform, or a moral education for top decision makers. What they do should not be too distressing or upsetting. The emphasis is on working with and within contemporary business organizations in order that their worst excesses can be tempered…Ethics becomes a specific part of a business and marketing strategy, something done in order to make more money. Yet, if someone told us that they were merely being good so that they would be rewarded, or so that people would think better of them, we would probably not be impressed. In fact, we might decide that they were not being ethical at all. 19

…we wanted to emphasise the importance of thought. Because, if people do not examine their prejudices and convictions, then how can they really be said to be thinking hard about something? How can they claim to be doing something new and worthwhile, rather than just repeating things that they have been told? It seems to us that much of business ethics clings to assumptions about human nature, organizations, markets and ethics. And further, it might be that these assumptions are highly political, in the sense that they tend to benefit that sorts of people that have already done rather well under present arrangements. 25

From Naomi Klein, No Logo

…there is little point…in pining for either a mythic brand-free past or some utopian commercial-free future. Branding becomes troubling—as it did in the cases just discussed—when the balance tips dramatically in favor of the sponsoring brand, stripping the hosting culture of its inherent value and treating it as little more than a promotional tool. It is possible for a more balanced relationship to unfold—one in which both sponsor and sponsored hold on to their power and in which clear boundaries are drawn and protected… 39

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Comments
  1. M.Waqas says:

    Nice.. Thankyou very much..

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