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Ethics in Marketing Research

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        Research is an integral component of any field of study or business practice. Whether it be formal or informal, people have been conducting research since the beginning of time. It is the way in which we find explanations for our questions and solutions to our problems. Although arduous as it may be, it’s a necessity in order to accumulate knowledge and advance society as a whole. However, research itself may not always be a transparent process nor yield truthful results. It is in those moments when questionable practices arise, and the issue of ethics comes to the forefront.

        In Ethical Marketing, Murphy, Laczniak, Bowie, & Klein (2005) define an ethical dilemma as “a situation where it is not clear what choice morality requires (p.3). Therefore, ethical dilemmas or issues can arise in all stages and parts of research. Sharing information from research findings, the treatment of participants, the communication among the various individuals involved, and the design or methodology of research projects can all present or consist of ethical issues if not handled properly and appropriately. So, when executing a research project, it is ethically sound to have prior review before conducting. The Institutional Review Board of the ETSU Office for the Protection of Human Research Subjects specifically does just this. It is an institution that oversees ethical practices of research projects when humans are involved. For all intents and purposes, this paper will focus on the ethics involving human subjects, excluding animal ones.

        The Institutional Review Board, commonly known as the IRB, states that their main objective is “to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects involved in research under their authority (Institutional Review Board, n.d.). In their effort to uphold this, all projects involving human participants related or connected to ETSU must be submitted and approved in order to conduct the project or study. Submission of a brief summary of the study’s intent and design is insufficient. A number of documents are at most times required, including informed consent documents and copies of questions, surveys, or transcripts. Additionally, particular training is required concerning the proper treatment of Human Subjects during the study or project before gaining approval (IRB, n.d.). As long and arduous as it may be to attain all the signature approvals, this institution ensures the safety of human subjects and thus, upholds ethical standards.

        Yet many research projects may not go through an approval process as not all are associated with universities or academic institutions. In the business world, research conducted within or on behalf of companies may not have to face difficult criticism. Of course, in today’s society, standards are outlined and expected to be respected. But ethical issues can still arise, and as this paper will discuss, ethics is a great cause for concern within marketing research.

        Before elaborating on marketing research, we must briefly discuss marketing itself. It is a discipline in which a company, business, organization, or any entity seeks and encourages through advertisement and other techniques the consumption or sale of a good or service that they provide. Dolnicar and Ring (2014) explain upon marketing whose aim is to “match consumer needs and market offers” (p. 32). Commonly used, the four P’s highlight the key goals of marketing:  product, price, promotion, and place. When trying to classify, the decades long debate among scholars concerning marketing as a science or as an art (Davis, Golicic, Boerstler, Choi, & Oh, 2013). Schultz and Armstrong (1993), on the other hand, discuss the presence and validity of marketing principles and claim that “the inclusion of principles might improve the status of the field” (p.1). Clearly, there is much debate on what marketing truly is, and perhaps its lack of classification contributes to its view in a negative light.

        Dolnicar and Ring (2014) offer further insight on marketing explaining its negative perception. These authors cite J.M. Cassels who references the perception of Plato and Aristotle “who felt marketers made money without adding value” (p.32). It is apparent that this discipline has maintained a historically unfavorable view, even as long ago as ancient Greece. So, then it is natural to assume that marketing is susceptible to a number of ethical issues. Considering the number of participants involved, any function of marketing could translate into an unethical situation. Murphy and colleagues (2005), describe marketing managers falling prey to being “simply agents of the corporation” (p. 4). In other words, employees just simply doing their job as expected by the company for whom they work, even though they as individuals may not agree with the task at hand.  Murphy and colleagues (2005) then mentions the need “to avoid values misalignment” in which the organization outlines ethical standards so that personal values of an individual employee and those of the organization generate less conflict (p. 4). The authors of Ethical Marketing provide a statistic asserting that between 65 and 75 % of marketing managers have dealt with ethical dilemmas during their careers (Murphy, Laczniak, Bowie, & Klein, 2005). There are a number of instances involving ethical issues aside from those of employee versus organization. One must consider the unethicality that can arise when dealing with consumers and the general public. Thus, it is of utmost importance that any marketing activity maintains openness and transparency for all market (Murphy, et al. 2005). In order to do so, the authors provide an explicit list that they refer to as the ABC’s of Marketing Ethics and Maxims for Ethical Marketing (Murphy, et al. 2005, pp. 10-13). Although every situation is unique with differing levels of ambiguity, these suggestions offer guidance in navigating an ethical path through marketing.

        With ethics as a prevalent issue in marketing, it is inevitable that ethics will prove just as important in marketing research. Before discussing ethical implications though, this paper will define, describe, and outline the aims of marketing research. According to the American Marketing Association, “Marketing research is the function that links the consumer, customer, and public to the marketer through information--information used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve understanding of marketing as a process” (AMA, 2004). Basically, marketing research is conducted through a variety of ways in order to provide marketers the information they need to better market a product or service. Davis and colleagues (2013), offer further explanation of marketing research in that its aim “is to expand the body of knowledge by explaining, predicting, and understanding human behavior related to marketing phenomena” (p.1246). Considering that marketing research is in fact research, it adheres to the application of the scientific method as well as objectivity.



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