«Moral Idealism and Utilitarianism Approaches to Marketing and Decision-Making» - Free Essay Paper

Moral Idealism and Utilitarianism Approaches to Marketing and Decision-Making

Simply put, the phrase marketing ethics implies what is morally right or wrong, good or bad, as well as the moral challenges of marketing practitioners whenever they engage in marketing practices. Ethical judgments are essential throughout a range of marketing activities, whether in marketing research, pricing, market segmentation, product policy or even the points of sale. Whether within its own community or public opinion, marketing is a subject that evokes debate on whether the ethics is practiced in the process of marketing or not. Consequently, the issue of ethics and morals in marketing practices commonly arises at different stages of decision-making in the field. The theoretical foundation of ethics and moralism in marketing is often viewed as primarily linked to moral philosophy (Arnett & Hunt, 2002). The development and existence of a diversity of marketing ethics and moralistic approaches to marketing are reflected in this essay; the paper also illustrates how marketing can be practiced through a careful balance of utilitarianism and moral idealism. The next section examines utilitarian and moral idealism approach to marketing ethics and their applicability.

Utilitarian Approach and Moral Idealism in Marketing Ethics

Utilitarianism, a theory of normative ethics, holds that the best moral action is achieved with maximization of utility; with the main focus being the ‘greatest good for the greatest number.’ Brenkert (2008) defines marketing as any action that promotes the selling of products or services, including market research and advertising, all of which are geared towards satisfying the needs of consumers. Brenkert’s definition reflects a utilitarian aspect as the characteristic of marketing whose main objective is to satisfy the needs of the customers. From the definition, there is a tendency to believe that utilitarian approach to marketing provides potential customers with something useful while the marketer delivers the intended marketing message. Moreover, since the need for the satisfaction of human needs is practically indisputable, people concerned with marketing tend to be less concerned with the manner in which the idea of utilitarianism is attained in marketing practices, resulting in neglect of deontological aspects of their actions.

Given the tendency of marketing requirement to be fundamentally utilitarian, it is considered to require high levels of ethics. Upon the familiarity with the utilitarian approach to marketing, it is important to understand that actions are only ethical when they result in maximum positive repercussions for a great number of people while at the same time minimizing the negative impacts on the smallest populations (Ferrell et al., 2013). An example can be taken from the two cases of BP and Toyota (Kerin et al., 2014); while production of petroleum products is important for the operation of petroleum-based engines and running of the economies, it creates harmful environmental effects if not effectively handled. Consequently, the utilitarian ethical concern is, do the methods of production and marketing stress on benefiting economies and individuals (engines); are the people who suffer from polluted environment included in such marketing promotions?

For Toyota, there is the concern of car production. The target of the company is to maximize sales of its products. In the Western world, for instance, 70 percent of the adult population owns a car. However, this society insists on reducing carbon waste production. With the Eastern markets growing and opening up, Toyota as a car manufacturer is capitalizing on growth and selling more cars to the growing consumer base. Thus, the concern arises; what will be the overall environmental impact? What are the future effects on food and oil prices in some centuries to come? Does Toyota in its marketing consider these impacts? In brief, if marketing is majorly dominated by strong utilitarian ethics, should a marketing company not question the needs that must be satisfied and those of the customers that must be reached? Response to these concerns depicts a utilitarian approach to marketing.

In its applicability in marketing, utilitarian aspect of ethics is intended to satisfy the company shareholders with profits while satisfying the needs of consumers. The theory puts the satisfaction of customers as its final objective. Since its main aim is to satisfy the needs of the shareholders, marketers tend to be less concerned with how the satisfaction is achieved and are most likely to forget their environmental and social responsibilities as part of their actions. However, if marketers’ main objective is to satisfy customers’ needs, then, they should be more concerned with what the consumers believe in.

A utilitarian approach to marketing ethics advocates for maximization of benefits to their customers and stakeholders while at the same time minimizing any negative consequences to a bare minimum. Marketers should ensure that even as they bring their goods to the market, they should focus on reducing the side effects of their products through programs that reverse the negative effects their products had caused. Toyota Inc. can be a good example in this case; roduction of vehicles is maximized to make more profits while the environmental effects of producing the vehicles are dire. As such, Toyota marketers should inform their customers of the impact their products have on the environment.

Marketing in frames of the utilitarian ethical approach may assume different forms, but it is most often based on a particular code of ethics. The fact that a company has a code of conduct does not necessarily mean that it will be utilitarian. However, in order to define rules and regulations to be ethical or unethical, an organization must have rules to ethically guide its operations. It is, however, important for marketers to acknowledge the importance of community, social or environment responsibility or anything that might be affected negatively by the products they are selling. Further, the theory of utilitarianism does not give a clear cut to bribery and corruption, leaving rogue free to make bad decisions that hurt the society and the environment. The greatest success of utilitarianism is when cost-benefit analysis is conducted. The theory does not indicate whether bribery is unethical or not; if occasional kickback is given to achieve greater happiness, then what the harm? To them, the net effect is what counts. Indeed, some utilitarians urge that the foreign corrupt practice should be abolished.

The theory of moral idealism is a personal philosophy, which considers certain individual duties or rights as universal, disregarding the outcomes of such considerations. As opposed to the utilitarian marketing approach, moral idealism approach opines that, no matter the costs, marketing activities must protect individual rights regardless of the outcome.

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The theory of moral idealism in marketing can be approached from its smaller theoretical segments of duty, objectivism, rational egoism, social justice, and lasses-faire capitalism. The goal of moral idealism is to establish the objective value judgments that evaluate propositions that are ethically correct across the world. Statements, which are highly evaluative, are validated by the constant reference to a supreme value or supreme good. All other lesser judgments are seen as deriving from or contributing to a supreme good. In some of the earlier arguments in support of the theory of moral idealism and its components, Immanuel Kant stated that duty is a standard of morality (Arnett & Hunt, 2002), implying strict adherence to morality law without any regard to its actions or consequences. Kant further explained that if something is right, then that is the only description (right), and there is no any other word for it. Because the emphasis of the theory lays on the end action or goal of actions, as well as the belief that a consequence of any actions can result in either pleasure or pain, it determines the action’s wrongness or rightfulness. As Kant explains, the theory of moral idealism is derived from duty and not pleasure or any inclination (Arnett & Hunt, 2002; Lynn, 2012).

In marketing, the theory of moral idealism is categorical and imperative; it requires that a marketer act in a manner that conforms to the universal law. For example, marketers must ensure that ethical principles are universalized and applicable at all times in their marketing activities. The theory states that one should have a duty to treat human beings as an end itself, which implies that marketers should put the interest of their consumers and the community above their own. In certain context, for instance, everything that sustains and enhances a man’s life as a normal human being is good, and anything that destroys or retards one’s well-being is bad and evil (Nill & Schibrowsky, 2007). From the point of view of moral idealism, marketers must understand this objective and that human survival is derived from the universal principle of ethics. In the case study of BP, for instance, the interests of the company, appear to overshadow the interests of consumers, having caused leaks at the Mexico Gulf.

Objectivism, a component of moral idealism is egoistic and teleological because it looks at life as a consequence of one’s actions and encourages people to pursue their happiness while holding to universal ethics and mode of conduct. Its relevance to marketing stems from the fact that marketing activities should help consumers to pursue their happiness, but not at the expense of the other members of the society’s well-being. For the case of BP and Toyota, do marketing activities benefit certain section of the society at the expense of another one? Concisely, objectivism holds that social justice is the standard of justice, value, and fairness. Fairness is accomplished in a society where every human being is treated equally, and when there is a fortune achieved, it should be distributed equally. The theory subscribes to a philosophy of the welfare state. From the marketing perspective, the theory advocates for justice among marketers; it specifies that the marketers’ duties are to act justly. The theory validates social justice as the standard of ethics and value using the state of nature as a device for social theorists. A just action, according to this theory, is that one must strive to improve the condition and position of the less privileged and less advantaged in society; the goal is to maximize the minimum (Nill & Schibrowsky, 2007).

Applying the theory of moral idealism, marketers as individuals, as well as an organization, should observe moral principles or duties. These are the moral duty to exactitude, the duty to justice, the duty to honesty, duty to charity and duty to gratitude. The duty to exactitude and honesty means that one must honor one’s word. Clearly, the modifications of products without informing the consumers and false advertising, recalling of defective goods and honoring of guarantees should all be governed by this principle. The duty to gratitude, on the other hand, means that one must appreciate what another person has done (Yucel & Dagdelen, 2010).

Marketers can apply the duty of justice in their work as it goes beyond what is provided with by the law. Organizations and marketers should ensure that moral obligation to justice sees that customers pay for the quality of the product; they should avoid price discrimination and product dumping. A good example is a case where a big corporation exports goods that have been banned in the developed states to the third world countries. Additionally, the marketers have a duty to put safety or health of others in danger. It is probably the most important duty of these principles.

Critical Analysis of both Ethical Theories

Utilitarianism ethical theory states that right or wrong actions or moral rules should be evaluated regarding their moral consequences for all concerned. Furthermore, it requires that every action is good as long as it maximizes the good and happiness to people, which means that people do their thinking in a given way through considering things that happen around, like murder, torture, and detention without trial. It makes one believe that certain acts or behaviors are right or wrong, just or unjust. People hold these judgments without much reflection or honestly and are totally convinced that those are morally right things to do.  

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Hence, the intuition of human beings is derived from the education that tells people the right and wrong actions, which is simple moral situations. It means that these simple moral situations differ from one society to another since a society that condones murder or torture would not see anything wrong with torture. Utilitarianism can, therefore, lead to immorality, distributive injustice, neglect of special responsibilities and duties just because people believed their actions would make others happy. Morality is not as simple as utilitarian makes it to be; one’s moral judgment cannot be deduced according to their preferences.

Obviously, the theories of utilitarian and moral idealism conflict with one another regarding how to prioritize customer needs. For example, utilitarianism believes in doing what makes people happy regardless of the costs involved while moral idealism insists on doing well to people, and doing good acts to people makes them happy. However, when it comes to applications of this idealism to marketing, utilitarianism seems to lack proper guidelines to help marketers, particularly on the issues of bribery and corruption.

Applicability of the Theories of Utilitarian and Moral Idealism in the Case Toyota and BP

Toyota Car Company applied the theory of moral idealism in its strategy to achieve market success while BP tends to adhere to the theory of utilitarian. Toyota management specifies idealism; that pleasure is the standard of value and that everything that leads to pleasure is good. The reason why Toyota used Kaizen theory to keep improving its products to increase pleasure in driving. The theory of moral idealism is seen in Toyota’s quest to uphold the duty to the standards morality. In this case, duty implies strict adherence to the moral law without regard to its moral consequence in action. Toyota environmental vision and trust is based on energy and climate change, recycle and resource management, air quality, environmental management and corporation with society. In their quest to attain the vision, Toyota designed efficient vehicles and donated them to the park as corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, BP is entangled in environmental pollution, disregarding possible efforts that the company puts in marketing itself as being environmentally conscious.

To affirm its orientation to idealism, Toyota management believes that its partnership with environmentalists and national parks will benefit it through educating the park visitors on the benefits of advanced vehicle technology and building awareness of Prius and Toyota hybrids. Toyota’s respect for the environment attests to the fact that they hold that life is the standard of value. This idealistic approach presupposes that everything that sustains and enhances a man’s life as a rational human being is good, and everything that destroys or retards the environment is bad, a policy that is lacking in the case of BP. Toyota has practically enhanced moral idealism by designing efficient cars and getting involved in public education on conservation and importance of using efficient cars.

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