Posted by: Christine Adams | September 6, 2009

Socially Responsible Marketing

There is something fundamentally wrong with a great deal of the marketing and advertising these days. As a Director of Marketing, I understand the logic that goes through the minds of business people when they are trying to maximize revenue. The unfortunate part is that more and more often it comes at the expense of the consumer. We need to be conscience of the impact we, as businesses, are making on society and we need to be concerned about the message that we send. Here are some examples of businesses who have bypassed ethical or moral standards in the pursuit of increased sales:

Anheuser Bush – “Fan Cans” is the new marketing campaign for Bud Light that has 27 color combinations to coincide with colleges and university’s athletic teams. The campaign kicked off with the start of college football this year. This targeted marketing is directed specifically at fans of college football which would include the majority of the beercansstudent population.

In recent years, universities nationwide have come together in a collaborative effort to stop underage drinking and binge drinking by young adults. When you consider the demographic of college students, roughly 50% of students are under the age of 21. This campaign seems to undermine the efforts put forth by the university presidents.

Anheuser Bush has agreed to remove the cans from markets that specifically ask them to do so. Considering that dozens of communities across the nation have asked that the cans be removed from their markets, wouldn’t that suggest that there is something inappropriate with the message? Why do they need to be asked to remove a campaign that could potentially be damaging to our youth? This is a surprising move by an industry leader who just recently agreed to quit pre-packaging energy drinks and alcohol in response to a massive movement by our Attorney State Generals.

Tires Plus – “Free alignment check” does not mean free! I had a recent experience with Tires Plus that was dissatisfying to say the least. First, they said it would be 1 hour and it actually took 3.5 hours, second they put my new tires on the wrong end of the car, and third they didn’t even bother to wipe of my rims after spending $400 on 2 tires. tireBut let’s get to the heart of the advertising debacle.

When I arrived I expected to pay roughly $325 for 2 tires on my Mini Cooper. The gentleman at the front desk asked me if I would like the FREE alignment check. Well, of course, why wouldn’t I? When they finally called 2 and a half hours late he told me that my car needed an alignment and that would be an additional $75. “Would you like us to take care of that for you?” he asked. So I said, “Well I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?” Hearing the irritation in my voice, he then decided to offer me a $10 off coupon…Wow lucky me!

In these economic times you should be completely upfront with your customers. They knew, the moment I agreed to purchase new tires, that I would likely need an alignment. I would have felt much better about the situation if they had simply said, “We will do a free alignment check but it is likely that you will need an alignment and that charge is going to be an extra $75.” To add insult to injury, I was only offered a discount when he understood that I was angry. If the coupon was available, why wouldn’t they offer it to me from the beginning? Sure everything is negotiable, but the customer should not have to fight for the best possible price. Despite my free tire rotations, I will never step foot back in Tires Plus.

Leapfrog – Leap Frog games are great educational tools for children. A beloved game in my household lost some of it luster with tactic I found to be extremely intrusive. I had just purchased my son, who was 4 at the time, a new Batman math game for his Leapster. As I was making dinner, he was sitting in the kitchen with me playing his new game. All of the sudden in the middle of his game, I hear “Congratulations you have won! Have your parents log on to to claim your prize!” My little guy’s eyes lit up as he looked at me and said, “Mommy, mommy, I’m a winner!” After careful explanation of marketing tactics I was finally able to calm him down enough not to have to log onto the website.

Children are inundated with advertising messages every day. We do not have television in our house for that exact reason. This demographic has no choice but to hear the messages and most likely they will react in the form of begging their parents to purchase the products they are targeted with. What made me so angry about the Leapster example is that I had already paid $40 to purchase one of their products but the company could not seem to leave well enough alone. While I was likely to purchase more of their games for my son’s system, now it is more likely that I will never purchase another one of their products again.

Lesson – The important message to take away is that you should always be considerate about your marketing messages. The examples I have given are only a few in a world of intrusive and irresponsible advertising. I intentionally chose drastically different product markets to allow you to see that the need for socially responsible advertising and promotion can take on many forms. Think about how your message may be perceived by its audience before you put it out for everyone to see. Do not support unethical tactics in search of a better bottom line.

I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.  ~John D. Rockefeller, Jr.


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