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Ethical Marketing for Competitive Advantage on the Internet

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"The function within business firms most often charged with ethical abuse is Marketing"

Murphy and Laczniak, 1981 (p. 251)

The development of internet-based technologies opens endless possibilities for Marketers. Marketing research can be carried out subtly by actively archiving the procedures that each individual undertakes on the Web, through Web tracking software. Thus making a whole new set of variables available to the marketer. The technological opportunities are obviously highly appealing for Marketers to explore and use extensively and intensively. However, we suggest that exploiting all these opportunities can be a threat to marketing performance in the long run. Technology has no inherent morality and the way in which it is utilized is what really matters. In this matter, both the deontological as well as the utilitarian view of ethics (Bergman 1997) apply. Paying close attention to the ethical aspects of the use of web-based technologies in marketing might constitute a differentiating force for proactive firms.

In a first section, we will discuss current marketing practices on the Internet and propose 7 criteria for judging the ethicalness of marketing practices. In the second section, we develop the potential advantages of ethical marketing on the Internet.


The observation of marketing practice on the Internet can give an idea of the types of unethical practices that are either already in place or recommended by certain marketing consultancy sites. A simple analysis of many sites highlights two important issues. The first one is concerned with the gathering of consumer information and the second one is concerned with the utilization of various marketing techniques. These are many and varied ranging from banners to fixed spot advertisements and flash advertisements and the selling or exchange of consumer information.

Gathering Information – The Issue of Consumer information Privacy

As Kelly (2000) notes, Internet technology provides opportunities to gather consumer information "on an unprecedented scale". However some aspects of information gathering are visible (such as self-divulgence of information for purchase, self-divulgence of information in accessing a web-site, self-divulgence of information for free merchandise) and some are less

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