Moral Guidelines for Marketing Good Corporate Conduct Online

Moral Guidelines for Marketing Good Corporate Conduct Online

Mary Lyn Stoll
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1598-4.ch069
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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is highly valuable for transnational corporations, but entails special requirements of heightened honesty in the marketing of CSR as compared to other goods and services. Companies need help in finding appropriate venues for advertising CSR. The Internet is an ideal medium for advertising CSR because it affords a global reach and greater space than the confines of standard advertising venues. However, using the Internet also poses special challenges in terms of perceived epistemic criteria for truth in a company’s online presence. This chapter highlights both the problems and benefits of marketing good corporate conduct online and provides moral guidelines for marketers of good corporate conduct.
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Many of the issues faced by those charged with communicating corporate social responsibility initiatives are the same as those faced by individuals advertising goods and services more generally. When it comes to advertising, there are already a number of ethics codes in place. The Better Business Bureau Code of Advertising, the Australian Advertiser Code of Ethics, the British Codes of Advertising Sales Promotion, and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards share the following key principles. First, it is essential to recognize that advertisers must meet responsibilities to consumers, local communities, and society at large. Secondly, advertising should adhere to standards of decency, honesty, and truth. This, of course, entails that advertisers ought to avoid misrepresentation and outright deception in ads. Advertisers also ought to respect a sense of fair play with other market competitors. Finally, advertisers must consider how their behavior affects the advertising industry as a whole (Spence and van Heekeren, 2005).

Despite these codes many advertisers clearly diverge from the requirements of honesty and avoidance of misrepresentation. Consumers facing the glut of beer and automobile ads promising a hot date still know that beer and nice cars won’t actually guarantee delivery of the promised blond bombshells in the advertisements. Puffery is common practice in advertising. Puffery refers to “exaggerated claims, comments, commendations, or hyperbole, and in its most common usage, puffery is based on subjective views and opinions” (Spence and Van Heekeren, 2005, p. 46). The public is fully aware that puffery is common. According to an article in Adweek, 74% of Americans strongly or somewhat strongly believe that advertisers regularly and deliberately stretch the truth (Spence and Van Heekeren, 2005). So long as the positions endorsed in ads are presented as subjective opinion rather than as objective rationally defensible claims, the Federal Trade Commission tends to let this sort of misrepresentation slide.

It could be argued that so long as consumers understand that the claims made in advertisements are exaggerated it is no more a case of outright lying than it is an outright lie for an actor in Hamlet to pretend to be a Danish prince when he is, in fact, a middle class man from Los Angeles. Artistry is never a matter of perfect representation of reality and the public knows that advertising is as much an art form as it is an attempt to provide information to the public about a company’s products. Given this context, puffery is likely not problematic so long as one is not targeting marketing efforts towards children or to those who are mentally incompetent due to age or disease. With a minimally rational target audience, puffery is not necessarily deeply problematic, since context allows a rational agent to discern fairly easily the actual likely results of purchasing a product even if ads are unduly hyperbolic in their expression of purported benefits.

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