Welcome back, I hope everyone had a restful and relaxing holiday with friends and family! When I saw this Marketoonist cartoon I thought it was very topical for the start of a new semester. Marketing should be all about informing and enabling consumers but there’s always the risk (and temptation) to push ethical boundaries. As we welcome a new batch of students, talk with them about where those boundaries lie. Is it intrusive if consumers give permission to track information? What if they didn’t opt-in but instead you utilize an opt-out strategy? Are we doing a disservice to customers if we don’t utilize available tools and technology to optimize our messages?
Over the summer one of the most talked about marketing campaigns was the IHOb campaign. The International House of Pancakes announced they were changing from IHOP to IHOb and later announced that the “b” stood for “burgers”. Shortly afterward they admitted it was all a publicity stunt to help build awareness of their line of burgers. This campaign has potential for a couple of class discussions. First, was it successful? Clearly they succeeded in getting people talking about their company but whether it drove sales is more ambiguous. This article from the USA Today suggests it did not drive a material increase in sales. Another article from geomarketing.com indicates that there was an increase in male traffic but the net result was negative due to lower traffic by females.
Another angle to discuss is the ethicality of the campaign. Is it ethical for a company to say “we’re changing our name” when they have no intention to do so? Does this create a bad precedent or does it cause other companies to push the boundaries of deceptive marketing? How far is too far when trying to gain publicity?
The measure of your impact in social media is often the number of followers or views that you have. The theory being that better, more interesting, or more popular individuals and content will naturally draw a larger follower base than those of lesser interest. However, it seems that everywhere you turn there are individuals willing to venture into ethical grey areas to get ahead. The New York Times wrote this lengthy but fascinating article titled The Follower Factory.
The article covers a number of topics including social identity theft and the practice of buying Likes, followers, YouTube views, and more. The article states that nearly 15% of Twitter’s reported active users are actually automated accounts designed to simulate real people. Facebook disclosed that they have up to 60 million automated accounts. The range of people buying these fake accounts is staggering. Professional athletes, politicians, entertainers, TED speakers, and church pastors are just a small sampling of the customers knowingly buying fake followers to boost their social media status. These accounts are also used to support overseas governments, promote products and services, and promote pornography. Some of these accounts are auto-generated but many of them are duplicates of actual people making it look like those individuals are the ones promoting those views, products, or services.
The article also discusses the incentives many companies put in place that unintentionally encourage people to participate in this activity. Overall it is a very interesting article and could lead to a rich class discussion.
We have all seen our fair share of unethical or misleading marketing campaigns in the world. In the quest to win customers, companies will often do whatever they can to woo consumers to their value proposition. Unfortunately, that involves blurring the lines of right and wrong far more than it should or needs to. A few companies have decided to take a stand in the opposite direction. Dove made headlines over a decade ago when they decided to use more natural models and CVS Health is following suit with a new set of standards for imagery associated with beauty products. This article talks about the details of that move. The article also has a good illustration of what an untouched photo looks like compared to a digitally altered image looks like. CVS says they want to portray more realistic body imagery and will start appending a “beauty mark” to images that have not been altered. It will also ban any alteration for imagery associated with CVS-brand makeup marketing.
Ask your students if they think this is a good move or a bad move by CVS. Will authenticity help them sell more product or are consumers more likely to buy from competitors if those competitors continue to use altered imagery?
This Bloomberg article, “Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children“, describes an effort from two Apple shareholders to get the company to add parental tools that limit child access to the phone. This raises an interesting question which could lead to a good classroom discussion. What obligations does a company have when it comes to ethical concerns? While the suggested action in this case is fairly easy for Apple to implement, should they? When a company has consumers “addicted” to their products do they have any obligation to reduce that addiction? What if taking the requested steps pushes some consumers to a competitive product?