Journal of Marketing Education

Journal of Marketing Education
35(2) 119–128
© The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0273475313491498
As the field of business ethics has evolved, marketing has
played a key role in the development of the general business
ethics course as well as some stand-alone marketing ethics
courses. One reason for this might be that many of the critical issues facing modern businesses can be considered marketing ethics issues (Murphy, 2010), such as supply chain
integrity, social issues such as obesity, the truthfulness of
advertising claims, consumer protection, and product quality. Marketing ethics scholars have been significant contributors to business ethics theory and research. Several of the
original ethical decision-making models emerged from marketing scholarship, such as the Ferrell–Gresham (1985) and
the Hunt–Vitell (1986) frameworks, and they remain among
the most highly cited studies in the marketing ethics and
management literature. Recent literature reviews confirm
that issues of marketing ethics continue to grow in importance to the marketing profession (Schlegelmilch &
Öberseder, 2010).
In response to increased media exposure from high-profile corporate ethical scandals and with the encouragement
and requirements of accrediting bodies, most business
schools have increased their coverage of the ethical components in their curricula (Sims & Felton, 2006). Business
schools recognize that they are responsible for influencing
their graduates’ capacity for ethical decision making
(McAlister, 2004). Despite this trend toward a greater
emphasis on ethics in general business education, recent
findings suggest that the marketing profession’s level of
interest in integrating ethics into marketing education have
been conflicting. An analysis of the marketing literature
revealed that education was the second most researched subdiscipline within marketing ethics (Nill & Schibrowsky,
2007). However, Schlegelmilch and Öberseder (2010) point
out that although the educational aspects of marketing ethics
may have a high number of total publications, the topic’s
relatively lower number of citations indicates marketing ethics education may be a less important topic overall for the
marketing discipline.
Only 25% of AACSB-accredited business schools in the
United States require a stand-alone general business ethics
course in their undergraduate curriculum (Rutherford, Parks,
Cavazos, & White, 2012). This definition of a business ethics course includes business and society, as well as related
courses. Significantly fewer schools offer a stand-alone
marketing ethics or related course. Prior studies have shown
that there are not a significant number of courses specifically designed and positioned with a focus on marketing
ethics in university business programs. Loe and Ferrell
(2001) found only three business schools that were
491498JMDXXX10.1177/0273475313491498Journal of Marketing EducationFerrell and Keig
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Brenau University, Gainesville, GA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Dawn L. Keig, College of Business and Mass Communication, Brenau
University, Gainesville, GA 30501, USA.
Email: [email protected]
The Marketing Ethics Course: Current
State and Future Directions
O. C. Ferrell1
and Dawn L. Keig2
Many of the critical issues facing modern businesses can be considered marketing ethics issues. It follows that as the field
of business ethics has evolved, marketing has played a key role in the development of business ethics education. Despite a
general trend of increasingly larger amounts of ethical content included in business curricula, prior studies have shown there
are no significant numbers of courses specifically designed with a focus on marketing ethics in university business programs.
This exploratory study examines the current implementation of the stand-alone marketing ethics course. Using a comparative
case study method, we describe a variety of different approaches currently being used in the definition and delivery of standalone marketing ethics courses. We offer recommendations for the future of the marketing ethics course and discuss related
research opportunities. Our goal is to inform and inspire further development and refinement of marketing curricula that
incorporate marketing ethics content.
marketing ethics, marketing ethics course, marketing education, business ethics
120 Journal of Marketing Education 35(2)
delivering a stand-alone marketing ethics course at that
time, noting that prior research in the 1980s and 1990s
revealed equally small numbers. This leads to the research
question explored in the current project: What is the current
state of the marketing ethics course?
This exploratory study takes an updated look at the current implementation of the marketing ethics course. Our goal
is to inform and inspire further development and refinement
of marketing curricula that incorporate marketing ethics content. Using a comparative case study method, we describe a
variety of different approaches currently being used in the
definition and delivery of stand-alone marketing ethics
courses. We conclude by offering recommendations for the
future of the marketing ethics course and discussing related
research opportunities.
As a subset of business ethics (Murphy, 2002), marketing ethics focuses on ethical situations of relevance to the domain of
marketing (Schlegelmilch, 1998). Because of marketing’s
position as a key boundary spanning function (Hult, 2011),
what constitutes acceptable standards of behavior for marketing activities will be strongly influenced by the organization’s
constituents and stakeholders (Ferrell, 2007). Marketing ethics, therefore, is concerned with “how moral standards are
applied to marketing decisions, behaviors and institutions”
(Murphy, Laczniak, Bowie, & Klein, 2005, p. xvii). Marketing
ethics includes individual and group decision making and the
evaluation of outcomes by stakeholders.
One of the key decisions when covering marketing ethics
in a course is whether to take a normative approach or a
descriptive approach to understanding ethical decision making. Either or both approaches can be used for resolving ethical issues and dilemmas. Hunt (1991) defines normative
marketing as attempting “to describe what marketing organizations or individuals ought to do or what kinds of marketing
systems a society ought to have” (p. 12). One of the leading
models of ethical decision making, the Hunt–Vitell model is
a descriptive model about normative relationships in ethical
decision making (Hunt & Vitell, 1986). The descriptive
approach attempts to show relationships among the greatest
influences in ethical decision making. In other words,
descriptive models help the student understand how ethical
decisions are made and the many variables that influence
these decisions rather than providing a prescription for issue
resolution. For example, this approach would help describe
how to establish ethical leadership, codes of ethics, and an
ethical organizational culture. Many courses use both normative and descriptive approaches to understanding ethical
decision making.
The scope of marketing ethics is admittedly broad. In the
most comprehensive marketing ethics literature review to
date, Schlegelmilch and Öberseder (2010) identified a wide
range of topics encompassed by marketing ethics. Most of
the identified topical areas have potential relevance to marketing ethics education. This includes ethical issues related
to the functional areas of marketing (product, price, distribution, and promotion), the sales function, corporate decision
making, consumers (including vulnerable consumer groups),
international marketing, marketing research, as well as ethics
and compliance programs. Their findings also highlight the
influence of more recent emerging aspects of marketing ethics, including green marketing, social marketing, and other
ethical marketing practice implications related to the Internet.
Their resulting categorization scheme aligns closely with the
prior marketing ethics scholarship review undertaken by Nill
and Schibrowsky (2007).
Different universities have chosen a variety of approaches
to implementing marketing ethics coursework within their
business programs. There is no clear agreement within the
business ethics education community regarding which
method of infusing marketing ethics into business school
curricula is preferable (Sims & Felton, 2006). Some scholars
call for embedding and integrating ethical content into multiple courses (Abela & Murphy, 2008; Beggs, 2011; Beggs &
Dean, 2007), though this may potentially result in a superficial treatment of the topic (Brennan, Eagle, Ellis, & Higgins,
2010). Some business schools have chosen a stand-alone
approach, with dedicated courses focused specifically on
ethics (Petrick, Cragg, & Sanudo, 2011). Others conclude
that a modular or hybrid mix of both stand-alone and embedded program components may be the optimal approach
(Hartman & Werhane, 2009; Ritter, 2006). Because the
stand-alone course continues to be espoused to satisfy some
or all of the ethical content delivery, this study focuses on the
current state of the stand-alone marketing ethics course.
The objective of this exploratory study is to identify and
describe a variety of approaches currently in use by business
programs delivering stand-alone marketing ethics courses as
a means of inspiring and informing future curriculum development. To accomplish this goal, consistent with prior marketing course examinations (Crittenden & Crittenden, 2006;
Crittenden & Wilson, 2006), detailed content analysis of
course syllabi was used as the methodological approach in
this study.
To obtain our cases, we randomly selected 250 AACSBaccredited business school programs around the world from
the 644 available on the AACSB website. We used university
website information to determine which business programs
have recently offered or whose catalogues specify a dedicated marketing ethics course. Additionally, we performed
general web searches for marketing ethics syllabi and also
queried academic message board members who teach and/or
research in business ethics for additional input, resulting in
Ferrell and Keig 121
an additional eight potential course leads. We did not necessarily attempt to be exhaustive in our search; however, we
did aim to provide breadth of exposure to current practices in
the area of stand-alone marketing ethics education.
Using the information available on university websites,
36 of the examined universities had a course that appeared to
be a candidate for a stand-alone marketing ethics course
based on course description. To confirm appropriateness of
including courses in our sample and to enable content analysis, full course syllabi were either obtained from university
websites or received directly from responsible professors for
28 of the courses, which became our final sample for this
exploratory study.
Using the course syllabi, one investigator compiled university demographic information, including university location and accreditation (AACSB or not), and basic course
information, including course number, title, graduate/undergraduate designation, required/elective designation, and syllabus year, for each sample course. Course learning materials
(books, cases, videos, and other readings) were also noted, as
well as pedagogical methods (individual and group activities, assignments, exams, etc.) where specified. All course
learning objectives and content elements from the syllabi
were initially listed individually, and then the lists were
coded and consolidated, resulting in summarized lists of
objectives and content. A second investigator reviewed the
coded data to confirm accuracy. Any discrepancies between
the two coders were discussed and resolved prior to data
Sample Description
Our final sample of representative stand-alone marketing
ethics courses is composed of a wide variety of courses from
28 different university business programs in the North
American, European, and Asia-Pacific regions. The majority
of these universities (54%) were located in the United States;
another 21% were located in Europe. Our sample also identified three universities with stand-alone marketing ethics
courses in Canada as well as in Australia and one in India.
Because our primary sample frame was AACSB-accredited
universities, all but seven of our sample business programs
were AACSB-accredited, and all the unaccredited programs
in our sample were located outside the United States, where
AACSB penetration is not as substantial (Durand & McGuire,
2005). The sample courses were split fairly evenly between
undergraduate (60%) and graduate-level (40%) programs.
Only three of the sampled stand-alone marketing ethics
courses were mandatory components of the business curriculum; in all other cases, the courses were available to students
as program electives.
The titles of the sample courses were inspected. As
expected (because of the relative rarity of stand-alone marketing ethics courses), the titles of the courses we reviewed varied
widely, though most were clearly identifiable as having a
marketing focus by the course name. Almost half (46%) of
the course titles contained some combination of the terms
marketing and ethics (“Marketing Ethics,” “Marketing Ethics
& Practices,” “Ethics in Marketing,” “Ethical Issues in
Marketing,” “Business Ethics & Marketing”). Another third
of the courses were identified as “Marketing & Society” or
“Marketing Ethics & Society.” Other course titles that each
appeared once in our sample included “Business Ethics &
Social Responsibility,” “Environmental Issues in Marketing,”
“Environmental Marketing,” “Ethics & Public Policy for
Marketers and Consumers,” “Regulatory Environment &
Ethics,” and “Stakeholder Marketing.”
In terms of the learning materials specified in the syllabi,
case studies and non-textbook readings were assigned in a
frequency equal to academic textbooks. Most courses used a
combination of two or more of these learning materials,
resulting in textbooks, cases, and non-textbook readings
each being specifically referenced on 60% of the sampled
courses. Of the 17 courses specifying textbooks, there was a
wide disparity in the textbook choice. Only three academic
texts were referenced on two or more syllabi: Murphy et al.’s
Ethical Marketing (2005); Business Ethics: Ethical Decision
Making & Cases (Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell, 2013); and
Ethics in Marketing: International Cases (Murphy, Laczniak,
& Prothero, 2012). Almost 40% of the stand-alone marketing
ethics courses also specifically mentioned the use of videobased resources as classroom learning materials, and a variety of courses incorporated guest lecturers and corporate site
visits into the curricula.
Specific non-textbook readings were also identifiable on
17 of the sample syllabi, either in lieu of or as a supplement
to formal textbooks. Only 9 of the more than 250 non-textbook readings specified appeared on more than one syllabus,
reflecting the wide variety of marketing ethics course focus
topics and lack of correspondingly clear seminal literature
base. Seven of the multireferenced items represented journal
articles: “Ethical Challenges of Social Marketing” (Brenkert,
2002), “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase
Its Profits” (Friedman, 1970), “Fear Appeals in Social
Marketing: Strategic and Ethical Reasons for Concern”
(Hastings, Stead, & Webb, 2004), “The Distorted Mirror:
Reflections on the Unintended Consequences of Advertising”
(Pollay, 1986), “Strategy and Society: The Link Between
Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility”
(Porter & Kramer, 2006), “What Does It Mean to Be Green?”
(Kleiner, 1991), and “Marketing’s Contribution to Society”
(Wilke & Moore, 1999). Two mainstream business books
also appeared more than once on the sample courses: No
Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Klein, 2000) and
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, &
Happiness (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).
In terms of pedagogical methods, the vast majority (82%)
of the courses included significant components of discussion
122 Journal of Marketing Education 35(2)
and participation in the course grade. All the courses except
one specified some kind of individual paper, essay, or other
individually graded activities. Most courses (75%) also
included a group paper, presentation, or other group activity.
Only half of the stand-alone marketing ethics courses in our
sample (53%) used any kind of formal exams as an assessment tool. Of particular note is that 40% of the stand-alone
marketing ethics courses included one or more case analysis
assignments emphasizing critical thinking, and one or more
debate activities were employed as a tool for exploring marketing ethics in almost one third of the sample courses (28%).
Course Content Analysis
An examination of the course objectives and topical content
of the sample syllabi revealed a wide diversity of content.
There was no discernible dominant pattern to the course content. Because such a wide variety of different approaches
were represented across the sample, a comparative case
study method was chosen to highlight key elements of several of the most common themes.
Case studies are an appropriate choice for “providing
answers to ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ questions and in this role can
be used for exploratory, descriptive or explanatory research”
(Rowley, 2002, p. 16). Yin (2009) points out that the choice
of single versus multiple case studies should be made with
regard to the specific research purpose. Multiple case studies
are used in this study in a comparative fashion to enable a
broader and more varied exploration of the phenomenon of
interest (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007) and thus are employed
in this study.
Approaches to the Marketing Ethics
From the content analysis of the selected syllabi, a variety of
different approaches to stand-alone marketing ethics courses
emerged: philosophy focused, managerial, cross-cultural,
stakeholder focused, and society focused. These different
approaches are representative of the wide diversity of practices and approaches currently in use in delivering a standalone marketing ethics course. Each case study represents a
mosaic of one or more stand-alone marketing courses in our
exploratory sample that are organized around a similar
approach or theme. University names are not identified to
maintain confidentiality of course materials. Case descriptions highlighting each of the different approaches to the
marketing course are subsequently presented, compared, and
The Philosophy-Focused Marketing Ethics Course
One approach to the stand-alone marketing ethics course
can be described as philosophy focused. This approach is
characterized by a strong grounding in traditional moral philosophies applied in a marketing context. The primary
emphasis is on the consideration of the morality (and immorality) of particular marketing practices based on ethical
analysis. The course objectives are aimed at encouraging
students to use normative principles to critically examine
their own values and beliefs as future marketing professionals, understanding the moral dimensions and consequences
of potentially difficult marketing situations.
To accomplish this, the philosophy-focused marketing
ethics course devotes a large proportion (up to 50%) of total
course time to instruction on moral philosophies, such as
Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development as well
as various deontological and teleological philosophical concepts. This includes an emphasis on critical thinking as well
as specific moral philosophy theories that can be used in
ethical decision making. Support for such an approach
includes the Hunt–Vitell ethical decision-making model,
which integrates the normative principles of deontology and
teleology into ethical decision making from a marketing
perspective (Hunt & Vitell, 1986). This descriptive theory
suggests that individuals use teleology and deontology logic
in making ethical decisions, but it does not specify an appropriate moral philosophy. By comparing and contrasting a
variety of different moral theories and theorists before
bringing the discussion into the marketing domain, the philosophy-focused marketing ethics course is intended to give
students confidence in viewing ethical issues through a variety of different ethical lenses. Often students are instructed
to select a lens for their personal ethical decision making.
This would be less likely to occur in a corporate ethics program because organizations establish values, codes of ethics, and required standards to create uniformity in ethical
decision making.
Once the basis for ethical analysis and moral decision
making has been established, the ethical principles can then
be applied to analysis of specific issues of direct relevance to
marketing, such as bribery, deceptive advertising and pricing, product design and liability, and marketing research.
The ethical foundation established in this course also enables
consideration of general business ethics issues, such as
monopolistic practices, antitrust risks, and honesty in business dealings. But this approach assumes that the student can
make decisions independently of organizational pressures
and requirements.
The philosophy-focused marketing ethics course makes a
significant investment in providing students with broad
philosophical foundations and histories that contribute to
ethical analysis based on logic and principles. But one of the
potential drawbacks of this approach’s strong emphasis on
moral philosophy is that typical business school faculty may
not necessarily feel they have the appropriate background
and training to instruct from a highly philosophical viewpoint. On the other hand, moral philosophies are often
Ferrell and Keig 123
covered in general education courses, including philosophy
and the social sciences. Additionally, the teaching of philosophical perspectives without practical application limits
students in applying marketing ethics concepts into realworld marketing ethics situations. Because most corporate
business ethics training programs do not use philosophical
perspectives such as deontology and utilitarianism in their
programs, the contributions of a marketing ethics course
that is solely philosophy focused to marketing education are
questionable. Although many marketing ethics courses
might be classified as philosophy focused, most incorporate
some form of practical applications into their curriculums.
Finally, the most significant weakness of a philosophyfocused course is that students may think they are empowered to independently decide on ethical issues and resolve
gray areas without considering legal ramifications, organizational relationships, ethical codes, and ethical policies.
Students have to learn that ethical decisions are most often
made in teams or groups and can have hidden consequences
beyond their own personal viewpoint. Research indicates
significant others, including peers and coworkers, will have
the most influence on ethical decision making in marketing
(Ferrell & Gresham, 1985).
The Managerial Marketing Ethics Course
With its primary emphasis on the practical and applied nature
of marketing ethics, the most common approach found in our
exploratory study can be described as the managerial marketing ethics course. Three main recurring themes appear in
the course objectives and content of managerial marketing
ethics courses. The first is the development of students’ recognition and general understanding of the breadth of ethical
issues relevant to the domain of marketing. Recognition and
awareness is a key element of the ethical decision-making
process (Ferrell, Gresham, & Fraedrich, 1989; Hunt & Vitell,
2006; Ritter, 2006; Treviño, 1986). For this reason, managerial marketing ethics courses are among the most comprehensive in terms of the number of marketing-specific topics
included in the course. It is not uncommon to see all of the
following topics touched on in the course: understanding
ethical decision making; market segmentation, particularly
the targeting of vulnerable populations; product policy, such
as safety and counterfeit products; advertising and sales promotion ethics; personal selling ethics and bribery; pricing
and antitrust issues; supply chain exposure; market research
and information-gathering practices; international marketing
ethics considerations; as well as the general business ethics
topics that also relate to marketing, such as ethical leadership
and ethics programs, which include codes of ethics, ethics
training, and anonymous reporting.
Legal and public policy implications of ethical issues
receive coverage. Ethical issues that damage a stakeholder
are often resolved through lawsuits. Based on the extensiveness
of the list, many managerial marketing ethics courses emphasize breadth over depth of marketing ethics issue coverage,
in an attempt to expose students to as wide a range as possible of ethical aspects of marketing in the available course
time. The course is practical and applied and reflects how
ethical decisions are managed in corporations. The student is
not taught to be a critic of corporate practices as much as to
gain an understanding of how to participate in an organizational culture and still maintain one’s personal ethical
A second recurring theme in managerial marketing ethics
course objectives and content is an emphasis on real-world
application of ethical concepts. These courses are designed
to provide students with repeated hands-on opportunities to
“test out” their own assumptions regarding a wide variety of
marketing ethics scenarios. Creativity in applying decisionmaking frameworks is encouraged, and course content is
structured with the largest proportion of time devoted to
active learning methods, such as in-class debates, multimedia presentations, role-play activities, and case analysis
A third common component of managerial marketing
ethics courses is an emphasis on the impact of ethical
behavior on the profession of marketing. By highlighting
the role of individual professional responsibility on marketing as a profession, these courses can help students develop
an understanding of the ethical implications of their future
actions at a professional level. Guest speakers, practitioner
interview assignments, and professional ethics code reviews
are examples of learning tools used in support of this
In managerial marketing ethics courses, one or more formal ethical decision-making frameworks may be introduced
briefly in early class sessions, but there is typically significantly less depth of coverage of moral philosophers or philosophies, in stark comparison to the philosophy-focused
approach to the marketing ethics course, which devotes significant time to philosophical foundations. The managerial
marketing ethics course moves quickly into practical application with a real-world emphasis. However, how to effectively incorporate the wide breadth and diversity of marketing
ethics topical coverage within available class time constraints
remains a challenge.
As with a philosophy-based focus, marketing ethics
courses that are entirely practice oriented have several limitations. The major limitation of a managerial marketing ethics
course is that the breadth of coverage may provide insufficient knowledge on specific topics to effectively prepare the
student for dilemmas that may be faced in the work environment. Students may not gain as many personal perspectives
on how to resolve ethical conflicts and how to use foundational principles to resolve issues. On the other hand, the goal
may be to gain an appreciation for the complexity and knowledge needed in marketing ethical decision making.
124 Journal of Marketing Education 35(2)
The Cross-Cultural Marketing Ethics Course
Some universities have chosen to deliver their marketing
ethics content via a cross-cultural marketing ethics course.
The emphasis is on developing students’ sensitivity to differences in moral norms and ethical expectations between countries based on unique cultures, traditions, and values
development over time. By focusing on the ethical tensions
associated with cross-cultural differences, this approach to
the marketing ethics course aims to develop marketing professionals with global sensitivity to the wide range of ethical
expectations they may be confronted with in international
marketing settings.
To accomplish this goal, first the foundations of moral
norms are examined. How do moral norms develop and
evolve? Why and how do they vary from country to country?
What can we expect, and how can we be more aware of and
sensitive to these differences? Then individual ethical decision making within this context of culturally influenced differences in moral norms can be examined through the
application of marketing-specific scenarios.
The cross-cultural marketing ethics course provides the
ethical diversity dimension that organizations face in global
marketing. Most global corporations recognize that they
should not try to adapt their ethics to local social norms, such
as bribing government officials, and maintain compliance
with their own country’s laws and norms. But in developing
global standardized ethics programs, they have to understand
cultural differences to avoid damaging ethical conflicts.
Communicating ethical standards and codes requires understanding cultural differences.
A cross-cultural marketing ethics course provides much
more depth of coverage on international issues related to
competition, bribery, consumer protection, and product
safety. It is important in this course that students learn that
multinational corporations develop their own core values
and ethics programs and do not necessarily adapt these values to fit each country. The ethical dimension of global marketing is different from marketing strategies where many
elements or variables are adapted to local desires. A limitation could occur if students get the impression that ethics is
relative to the local culture. This is because there are strategic options to adapt marketing to fit into a particular country.
On the other hand, there are subcultures even in a single
country that require understanding to implement marketing
ethics. The marketing ethics issues addressed are much narrower in scope and often are more macro and normative than
The Stakeholder-Focused
Marketing Ethics Course
Another approach to the marketing ethics course can be characterized as being stakeholder focused. Establishing a strong
stakeholder orientation is becoming increasingly important
for firms’ ethics and social responsibility as well as financial
performance (Maignan, Gonzalez-Padron, Hult, & Ferrell,
2011). A stakeholder-oriented marketing ethics course
extends consideration of the ethical implications of the marketing function beyond the traditional customer focus to
include a wider range of stakeholders, including the other
five stakeholders: regulatory bodies, communities, suppliers,
shareholders, and employees. The development and maintenance of positive stakeholder relationships is emphasized as
a marketing priority, and this alignment is considered a key
part of marketing strategy.
This course approach differs slightly from all three of
the prior marketing ethics course profiles in that the ethical
consideration of stakeholder-oriented marketing at a strategic level takes precedence over examination of individual
ethical decisions. This view can be valuable in that it
enables marketing students to develop an understanding of
the role of stakeholder engagement in establishing marketing strategy.
Using a stakeholder framework for marketing ethics provides the opportunity to include many features of the managerial marketing ethics course. A stakeholder orientation is a
management philosophy that goes beyond market orientation
and its emphasis on customers and competitors (Ferrell,
Gonzalez-Padron, Hult, & Maignan, 2010). A stakeholder
orientation prioritizes all stakeholders and develops longterm relationships to create value with those stakeholders
that relate to the organization. Therefore, this marketing ethics course can include ethical considerations that are important to all primary stakeholders as well as secondary
stakeholders such as special-interest groups, competitors, the
media, and more. Although many of the same ethical issues
may be covered in a stakeholder course as would be covered
in a managerial marketing ethics course or a marketing and
society course, the stakeholder course has a much more
robust framework created from the abundant amount of
stakeholder literature in marketing and management.
Research indicates that a stakeholder orientation is associated with many positive marketing outcomes, including
financial performance (Maignan et al., 2011).
A number of the stakeholder-focused marketing ethics
courses specifically focus their content on one particular stakeholder group, environmental stakeholders. “Environmental
concerns are frequently at the top of the list of social expectations a company has to face” (Harvey & Schaefer, 2001, p.
243). Although a particular focus on environmental stakeholders might preclude coverage of the ethical considerations of
other organizational stakeholder dimensions, there are abundant examples in the marketing literature that can be called on
to support an environmental focus. For example, Home Depot
has set stringent quality requirements with its wood suppliers
based on its perception of stakeholder environmental expectations (Maignan, Ferrell, & Ferrell, 2005).
Ferrell and Keig 125
Limitations of the stakeholder approach often include a
greater emphasis on social responsibility and usually less on
ethical decision making. If social responsibility is the desired
emphasis, then course objectives can be achieved. Another
limitation of the stakeholder orientation approach is that it
applies to more of a top management perspective. Many
entry-level positions will not have the ability to make the
types of decisions that build relationships with the diversity
of stakeholders important to an organization.
The Society-Focused Social
Issues Marketing Ethics Course
The final approach to business schools currently delivering
marketing ethics courses in our sample is found in societyfocused social issues marketing ethics courses. The domain
of social responsibility and marketing as defined by Wilkie
and Moore (2012) highlight the broad emphasis of marketing
and society by subdividing the current research of marketing
and society into eight main subdisciplines: public policy and
marketing, macromarketing, consumer economics, marketing
ethics, international consumer policy, transformative consumer research, and the Subsistence Marketplace Initiative.
Some of the most prominent topics covered in this course
include social issues, consumer protection, sustainability, and
corporate governance. These courses revolve around issues in
society that interface with marketing strategy and decision
making. The courses often view content and cases on issues
such as sustainability, obesity, privacy, consumer protection
legislation, marketing to children, discrimination, misleading
advertising, deceptive sales practices, bribery, and more.
Given the growing interest in sustainability and the corporate
social responsibility of business, it is not surprising to see a
strong occurrence of marketing ethics courses that are
designed around an examination of the ethical relationships
between marketing and society. Our sample included a number of marketing ethics courses specifically titled “Marketing
& Society.” It should be noted, however, that the title
“Marketing & Society” alone does not necessarily relate to a
marketing ethics course. For example, we found equal numbers of courses where that title was used to describe introductory marketing or marketing survey courses rather than
marketing ethics courses.
The society-focused social issues marketing ethics
course examines how marketing knowledge and marketing
decisions can directly and indirectly influence the greater
society. Social criticisms of marketing are explored, and
the nature and impacts of public policy and government
regulation are analyzed. The societal implications of misleading and deceptive marketing practices are examined.
Many issues that are addressed in the Journal of Public
Policy & Marketing and the marketing section of the
Journal of Business Ethics are appropriate for this course.
The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing has published
64 articles in the past 5 years with an emphasis on social
issues, versus 28 articles on consumer protection, 24 articles on the role of marketing in society, and 4 articles on
sustainability topics. By broadly considering marketing’s
role in society through an ethical lens, this course helps
emphasize how marketing can be used responsibly and
ethically to minimize harm and maximize benefits to society on a global basis. Several of the society-oriented marketing ethics courses in our sample approached this
objective from creative perspectives, including examinations of the bottom of the pyramid, working poor, and nonprofit issues and opportunities.
A marketing and society course, like a stakeholder course,
usually addresses social responsibility more than ethical
decision making. A marketing and society course is often
taught from a consumer and societal viewpoint and with less
of a managerial focus. A limitation is that there is a possibility of assuming that organizational ethics evolves out of just
addressing important social issues. A managerial course
would focus on internal organizational decision making
related to ethical risks, ethics programs, codes of ethics,
compliance, and more. An emphasis on individual moral philosophies and developing a personal lens would address the
issues discussed in marketing and society from a personal
perspective. Although students should develop a personal
perspective, they should also be aware that in an entry-level
marketing position, they will not be able to independently
address major issues in society. A balanced business and
society course could incorporate most of the different course
perspectives we have covered and encourage students to
understand how strategic decisions about societal issues are
made in marketing.
Our exploratory study finds that stand-alone marketing ethics courses are not very prevalent. Also, the meaning of the
“marketing ethics course” is not very clear based on what is
currently in use. Indeed, although we separated these marketing ethics courses into five categories, most are hybrids of
some sort. In other words, none of the marketing ethics
courses fit perfectly into one type. These hybrid approaches
increase the complexity of marketing ethics education in
institutions of higher learning. It is our belief that this low
prevalence in marketing ethics courses at business schools
combined with the wide variety of approaches in use results
in weak overall traction in the adoption of marketing ethics
courses in business education.
We believe that the marketing ethics course should be as
important as many other elective courses that are taught for
the marketing concentration. This course has the potential to
enhance critical thinking and communication skills important in marketing decisions. Many ethical decisions occur in
gray areas that will require knowledge, research, and
126 Journal of Marketing Education 35(2)
collaboration with others, requiring students to go beyond
their own personal ethical lenses and values. If students do
not learn about the ethical risks and types of issues they will
face, then they will have more difficulty recognizing ethical
issues and in understanding how to resolve ethical dilemmas.
Because the field of marketing is a highly visible, boundaryspanning area, the firm’s reputation rests as much on integrity as it does on technical knowledge about sales, advertising,
pricing, and distribution. This course should be an integral
part of marketing education.
The marketing ethics course can provide students with a
practical understanding of the ethical challenges that they
will face as new employees. Therefore, the use of examples,
cases, and exercises that relate directly to their situation and
the types of decisions they will face can be an excellent
learning opportunity. Courses that focus on macromarketing
issues such as social issues and sustainability strategies are
helpful, but dealing with individual-level issues of potential
relevance to new marketing employees such as conflicts of
interest, expense accounts, time theft, abusive behavior, and
bribery can be very beneficial. Students need to learn how to
understand the meaning of an ethical culture and the values
and professional standards of participating in the marketing
There is a distinction between a business ethics course
and a marketing ethics course. Although marketing ethics
can be considered a subset of business ethics, marketing
students need to learn to relate to what is unique and important in being successful in this area. A business ethics
course often focuses on frameworks and issues that are
much broader in scope and includes many issues beyond
the scope of what most marketing managers deal with. A
marketing ethics course, like accounting ethics courses and
sustainability courses, addresses concepts, issues, and
frameworks that relate to the risks, nature, and scope of a
specific domain.
Whether to offer a marketing ethics course may depend
on the existence of a core business ethics course (only 25%
of U.S. business schools require such a course) and how ethics is being addressed in other functional courses. For example, if there is no required business ethics course, a marketing
ethics course may be designed to fit with other courses in the
market concentration.
Most important, faculty and students need to understand
that marketing ethics is not as easy as just telling people to do
the right thing. Ethical decision making in marketing can be
difficult, and the consequences of unethical conduct can
destroy a career as well as the reputation of the firm. Most
marketing ethics activities have risks such as conflicts of
interest, bribery, false and misleading communications,
product quality, as well as pricing and supply chain ethics.
On the other hand, all evidence points to the fact that good
ethics is good business and results in outcomes that translate
into high financial performance.
Limitations and Future Research
Exploratory studies can provide useful descriptive insights
into the current status of the marketing ethics course, but
like all exploratory studies, this study has limitations that
open up avenues for future research. This study uses secondary data made available by professors and on university
websites as the basis for exploring current practices in the
stand-alone marketing ethics course. Future studies may
want to use a more comprehensive survey to gain insights
from marketing professors that have an interest in teaching
marketing ethics. Trying to reveal why these professors do
not offer the marketing ethics course may be as insightful as
understanding the current status of existing courses.
Additionally, these studies could more exhaustively examine all AACSB programs (or other globally recognized business school accreditations) to create a more comprehensive
picture. The exploratory results indicate that looking at nonU.S. programs in particular could yield unique marketing
ethics course configurations and emphases from which we
can learn.
Following the lead of Rutherford et al. (2012), future
research could also examine a variety of internal and external
factors in the business school programs that do and do not
have stand-alone marketing ethics courses. Are there situation-level or leadership-level variables that tend to lead to the
incorporation of a marketing ethics course in a given business school curriculum? Finally, although this study identifies key characteristics of a variety of current practices,
future investigations could compare the effectiveness of the
different approaches to delivering a marketing ethics course.
The marketing ethics course has not been well established as
an elective course, and this study provides evidence that
there are many different perspectives on the content for the
course. More contributions to knowledge that define marketing ethics as a part of a marketing concentration could help
determine the need and appropriate content for this course.
This exploratory study has provided solid evidence that only
a limited number of universities offer a marketing ethics
course. The marketing ethics course is defined across the
entire spectrum of issues related to marketing ethics and
social responsibility. In fact, most of the courses that were
analyzed are more focused on the interface of marketing with
society, social issues, stakeholders, and consumer protection
issues. Most courses do not focus on managerial ethics issues
that relate to internal management of marketing ethics decision making. For example, this approach would spend more
time on identifying risk areas such as bribery, antitrust, misleading promotion, and more.
The approaches to the marketing ethics course that we
discovered include the philosophy-focused marketing ethics
Ferrell and Keig 127
course, the managerial marketing ethics course, the crosscultural marketing ethics course, the stakeholder-focused
marketing ethics course, and the society-focused social
issues marketing ethics course. It is important to note that
these content areas appear to be the areas that are considered
most appropriate for students to address in learning about
marketing ethics. Nearly all the courses that we analyzed
integrated some of these content areas into their courses. We
simply identified the major focus of the course and attempted
to derive an overarching perspective to the course. We feel
that identifying these major content perspectives should be
extremely helpful to anyone who wants to develop a marketing ethics course.
Based on our experience and the results of our analysis, we
believe that a marketing ethics course has potential to significantly enhance the knowledge of students. Although ethics has
not been a major functional area of marketing decisions such
as sales, channel decisions, advertising, product management,
and price management, it does relate to the necessary conduct
involved in implementing these functions. It is important that
students understand that marketing ethics is just not philanthropic activities, sustainability, and social responsibility.
Although these are important topics, few companies engage in
serious misconduct while trying to carry out these activities.
On the other hand, marketing ethics and social responsibility
are complementary concepts. Marketing ethics relates to decision making consistent with legal compliance, organizational
policies, and stakeholder relationships. Social responsibility
relates to evaluations about contributions to the economic and
social common good of society. Ethics becomes important as
it is embedded in daily decisions related directly to functional
areas of decision making. Marketing managers must understand risks associated with misleading promotion such as
deceptive advertising, bribery, price-fixing, defective products, as well as ethical issues and responsibilities in maintaining the integrity of the supply chain. These areas of concern
require not just telling students to be ethical and obey the law
but also ensuring that students gain knowledge and an appreciation of the complexity of these relationships. There is a
need to develop competence in marketing concepts and application and understand how ethics is embedded in almost every
marketing decision. A marketing ethics course can fill an
important gap in this area.
To aid and encourage broader incorporation of a standalone marketing ethics course component within more business school programs, we have developed a sample marketing
ethics course syllabus that can be accessed at danielsethics. under Teaching Resources. This sample syllabus incorporates best practice content and integrates pedagogical elements from each of the five marketing ethics
course categories. Curriculum developers can use this syllabus as a template for customization and implementation of
their own tailored stand-alone marketing ethics course at
either the undergraduate or graduate level.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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