Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.
Ethical and Unethical Target Marketing
Targeted marketing is absolutely crucial to a company's health. In the lesson Ethical and Unethical Target Marketing In Business, we learned that not only is target marketing vital to business, it's also helpful to customers since it presents them with new products and services that will be of particular interest to them. But sometimes target marketing goes too far. Target marketing crosses the ethical line when it uses an individual's vulnerability against their own well-being.
Scenario: Two Sides
Who is Vulnerable to Unethical Target Marketing?
Imagine that you've just walked out of your physician's office with bad news. After a decades-long struggle with diabetes and high blood pressure, you are rapidly approaching kidney failure. Because of your specific circumstances, a kidney transplant is what you need. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people ahead of you on the list. This makes it relatively unlikely you'll get your kidney transplant any time soon. The problem, of course, is that time is something you don't have. You decide it's time to think outside the box.
In an attempt to understand your options, you go to the internet and do a basic search on 'kidney transplant.' The first few lines are what you expected. They relate to educational materials, consumer health resources, and the names of top doctors who do such surgeries. But then something catches your eye. An organization calling itself Creative Health Solutions, LLC offers ''customers'' the opportunity to use ''non-traditional'' methods in pursuit of their medical needs.
Your interest now piqued, you call the company and describe your situation. Their response makes you simultaneously skeptical and hopeful. The company offers you a contract. For a fee of $25,000, the company guarantees that using their global network they will be able to find you a compatible kidney. The company even states that you don't have to pay them a dime until they have found a compatible donor.
- On the whole, does this marketing strategy seem ethical or unethical? Why?
- Is an individual in need of a transplant considered vulnerable to unethical marketing practices? Why or why not?
- What if the fee was $2,500 instead of $25,000? Does that change anything about this scenario of targeting an individual in need of a kidney?
Free Market Forces or Economic Coercion?
Since this sounds too good to be true, you might wonder how it is that a private company can secure a kidney when no one else can. You soon find the answer to your question. In the United States, the buying or selling of organs is illegal and considered highly unethical. After a little more digging, you discover what the ''global network'' really is.
Creative Health Solutions operates in countries without laws restricting the commercial acquisition of organs for transplant. In most of these countries, extreme poverty and minuscule wages mean that most of the population is desperate for enough money to simply eat and have a roof over their heads. Enter Creative Health Solutions.
The company seeks compatible living donors who reside in regions where the combination of stark poverty and no regulation allows it to offer what it calls a ''win-win-win'' solution. Here's how the company says it plays out:
|Who is the winner?||What Does the Winner Get?|
|The patient in need of a transplant that cannot be obtained through normal channels.||A transplant that will dramatically increase the quality and quantity of life.|
|The living donor who is living in poverty.||They are paid nearly $10,000 USD for the donation. This sum is enough to meet their financial needs for a decade or more, and it provides them with an immediate way out of their current situation.|
|Creative Health Solutions returns value to their investors and owners.||After the customer has paid the fee, the living donor gets paid, the administrative costs get paid, and the company turns a profit of about $10,000 at the conclusion of their quest.|
- Is Creative Health Solutions inappropriately targeting people in poverty as they market their financially lucrative offer?
- Is Creative Health Solutions appropriately targeting potential living organ donors as a means of helping make everyone's life better? (The win-win-win argument.)
- Is this scenario an example of appropriate, free-enterprise target marketing or is it an example of unethical marketing using what amounts to coercion?
- If Creative Health were to pay the donor $18,000 and take only $7,000 for their fee, does that change the situation?
- Are all people living in poverty (by definition) vulnerable to unethical target marketing?
Evaluating the Tough Issues
When Creative Health argues for their win-win-win scenario, it is essentially inappropriately applying the Utilitarian model in which acting ethically means doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Although the win-win-win argument may initially sound appealing, it could be argued that it's missing other key ethical principles like autonomy, self-determination, and beneficence.
Those who would assert Creative Health's transplant business is using ethical target marketing practices would argue that people should have the autonomy to chart their own course. In essence, ''If someone thinks about donating and comes to the conclusion that it's in their best interest to do so, we are stripping them of the dignity that comes with autonomy self-determination.''
People opposing this target marketing strategy would likely argue that the circumstances make it nearly impossible to act autonomously. In other words, ''When someone is in a dire condition, the nature of the extreme stress is such that a person cannot truly make an autonomous, rational decision.
When it comes to target marketing, the only way to act ethically is to target individuals who are not vulnerable or exploitable.
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