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Ethics of Target Marketing: Process, Product or Target?
Unformatted Document Text:  15 problem). Ethical evaluations of products exist on a continuum in which the marketing of certain products is more unethical due to the inherent qualities of these products. It also is critical to evaluate the marketing strategies because certain approaches can be more unethical and thus move a product along this ethical continuum. Lastly, the target of the marketing strategy must be analyzed and factored into the ethical evaluation. The Target: Vulnerable vs. Savvy Consumers. Perhaps the largest ethical criticism of target marketing is that takes advantage of vulnerable populations, such as children, minorities, and the elderly, to sell a products or services. For example, some individuals would find it more ethically questionable to target minorities with cigarettes than Whites. This criticism directly relates to the ethical mantra of avoiding harm. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that target marketing to minority consumers can be beneficial when products such as pharmaceuticals and medical services are marketed towards consumers who are particularly prone to certain types of illness (Cui, 2000). In general, a consumer is considered vulnerable when certain characteristics make them more susceptible to harm. Smith et al (1997) define vulnerable consumers as “those who are more susceptible to economic, physical, or psychological harm in, or as a result of, economic transaction because of characteristics that limit heir ability to maximize their utility and well-being” (p. 4). When evaluating consumer vulnerability, it is essential to ask whether marketing creates needs or responds to needs. By targeting certain populations, are marketers taking advantage of vulnerable consumers or responding to legitimate needs? A look at some

Authors: Fisher, Brooke A..
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problem). Ethical evaluations of products exist on a continuum in which the marketing of
certain products is more unethical due to the inherent qualities of these products. It also
is critical to evaluate the marketing strategies because certain approaches can be more
unethical and thus move a product along this ethical continuum. Lastly, the target of the
marketing strategy must be analyzed and factored into the ethical evaluation.
The Target: Vulnerable vs. Savvy Consumers.
Perhaps the largest ethical criticism of target marketing is that takes advantage of
vulnerable populations, such as children, minorities, and the elderly, to sell a products or
services. For example, some individuals would find it more ethically questionable to
target minorities with cigarettes than Whites. This criticism directly relates to the ethical
mantra of avoiding harm. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that target
marketing to minority consumers can be beneficial when products such as
pharmaceuticals and medical services are marketed towards consumers who are
particularly prone to certain types of illness (Cui, 2000). In general, a consumer is
considered vulnerable when certain characteristics make them more susceptible to harm.
Smith et al (1997) define vulnerable consumers as “those who are more susceptible to
economic, physical, or psychological harm in, or as a result of, economic transaction
because of characteristics that limit heir ability to maximize their utility and well-being”
(p. 4).
When evaluating consumer vulnerability, it is essential to ask whether marketing
creates needs or responds to needs. By targeting certain populations, are marketers taking
advantage of vulnerable consumers or responding to legitimate needs? A look at some


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