Treading on that Fine Line?: Caselets in Marketing Ethics

Authors: Syeda, I.; Purkayastha, Debapratim
Source: ICMR Center for Management Research
Year: 2008
Number of pages: 12

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This is a series of three caselets featuring some specific incidents in three companies that led to some ethical concerns being raised against them. While in the case of Emami Ltd and Pfizer Inc, ethical concerns were raised regarding the marketing of their products 'Fair and Handsome' and 'Lipitor' respectively, 'Facebook' was in the eye of the storm due to its new ad revenue model that provided other on-line advertisers with a new social media to market their products to Facebook users. The first caselet discusses the long standing debate on the ethics of marketing and promoting skin-lightening products with reference to the launch and advertising of Emami's Fair and Handsome, a fairness cream for men, and the decision of the company to rope in Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan to endorse the product. Both the company and the actor were heavily criticised for promoting a product that allegedly strengthened harmful stereotypes and age-old prejudices that equated fair skin with good looks. The second caselet is regarding the world's largest pharmaceutical company's marketing of the world's largest selling drug Lipitor. Critics contended that Pfizer resorted to off-label promotion (which was illegal and unethical) to drive up the sales of Lipitor to such gigantic levels. The third caselet discusses the ethical and privacy concerns pertaining to Facebook's new ad system. The case will help students to: (1) understand the ethical issues involved in marketing, advertising and promotion of products and services; (2) identify the need for establishing standards in marketing and promoting products and services; (3) understand the growing social criticisms and the need for awareness in promoting / advertising a product; and (4) understand the ethical issues in using celebrity endorsements to promote a product and the commercialising of social networking sites. The case is meant for MBA / MS students as part of a marketing management / advertisement management / business ethics curriculum. The teaching note includes the abstract, teaching objectives and target audience, teaching methodology, assignment questions, feedback of case discussion, and suggested readings and references. It does not contain an analysis of the case.

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