Marketing Research Ethics: Collecting Consumer Information

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  • 0:03 Legitimate Concerns
  • 1:05 Ethical Issues in…
  • 3:51 Codes & Standards
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

In this lesson, we'll discuss some common ethical issues related to market research and review standards and codes created by the Marketing Research Association to mitigate these concerns.

Legitimate Concerns

Have you received this phone call:

Hello, do you have five minutes to take a survey?

Or received this email:

Tell us how our service was when you bought that computer today!

We all know what they're doing; they're doing market research. Market researchers want to know what you think about their product, or what might prompt you to purchase a product, or they want to know what they can do to improve what they're offering. All in all, it seems like a good idea. Why then, do many of us avoid these calls or emails? Chances are, we are unsure of the legitimacy of the contact or what might be done with the information that's gathered. We are, in essence, concerned about how ethical the organization is that's asking for information from us.

Here's the thing, though: the concerns we have are legitimate. There are some serious ethical issues related to market research that we should be concerned about. Let's take a look at some of them:

Ethical Issues in Market Research

What are the kind of things we, as consumers, are worried about? There are four main areas that come up regularly. They are a concern over a lack of honesty, a lack of privacy, a lack of confidentiality, and a lack of objectivity.

Dishonesty is flat out lying about what the researcher is doing or how they're going to use the information they're gathering. What if marketers get information about us under false pretenses? For example, they ask us to complete a survey by email and ask us to supply a phone number, then they use that phone number to harass us until we buy their products. Another dishonest practice is not telling people information is being collected about them or that a survey will only take 10 minutes to complete when they know it will likely take 30 minutes.

We expect that transactions between ourselves and businesses are private, meaning once the transaction is complete, that's the end. Market researchers regularly collect and store customer information. What if all the information is put together to gain a pretty clear idea of the buying patterns for an individual and then the specific marketing campaigns are designed to target those customers in particular? Guess what? It already happens! Do you have a rewards card at your local grocery store? Well, when you use it, the store keeps track of what you purchase and uses it to plan advertisements designed to appeal to you and customers similar to you. Is this a good thing? Or is it an invasion of privacy?

We have an expectation that information we supply a researcher will be kept confidential, meaning it won't be shared with anyone else. This is probably the one consumers think about the most. Who's the marketer sharing my information with? If you participate in a survey about a general product, say a car, and you indicate you like small electric cars, will the marketer then turn around and sell your name, address, and phone number to a car dealership?

Objectivity is information gathered impartially without preconceived notions. This is one we might not think about so much as consumers, although it does affect us in the long run if market researchers skew the results of the research based on their own bias. For example, a market researcher thinks women in their 50's are all married with children. So, they design surveys that reflect that bias. There is no room in the survey for legitimate responses from women in their 50's who may not be married or who may not have children. So, the organization contracting for the research acts on information that isn't accurate, and we all suffer.

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