Responsible marketing and CSR

CSR is about firms voluntarily taking responsibility for the wider consequences of their actions. These consequences are not necessarily intended by the firm, or paid for by its customers, but manifest as side effects.

Responsible marketing is CSR applied to marketing practice: that is, firms taking on responsibility for the wider social and environmental impacts of their marketing strategies.

Ideally, companies should engage in CSR because it is the right thing to do – accepting they have moral obligations to wider stakeholders and society, and not just their shareholders. However, there are also strategic reasons why companies might wish to engage in CSR:

  • Social responsibility is becoming more important to customers
  • Embracing CSR can enhance reputation and brand image.

There are three main attitudes companies may display towards CSR:

  • Doing the legal minimum in terms of compliance
  • Realising CSR is important in terms of reputation, but not really committed
  • Being genuinely committed to CSR and factoring it into all business decisions.

Carroll’s (1991) four-part model of CSR is an interesting one. Carroll argues that true social responsibility involves meeting all four layers of the model.

There is a diagram of the model on page 83 of the B324 Block 3 course book.

Ethical issues in marketing

Market Research:

  • Unauthorised use of personal data
  • Intrusive questions
  • Coercion
  • Deception around purpose/use of research
  • Causing embarrassment/hindrance/offence

Target Marketing:

  • Vulnerable consumers
  • Marketing to children
  • Customer exclusion (poor, racial & ethnic minorities, older consumers)


  • Kotler’s classification of products (e.g. Deficient products or Immediately satisfying products with negative long-term effects)
  • Product safety
  • Packaging issues
  • Planned obsolescence
  • Emotional appeals in branding


  • Anti-competitive pricing (predatory pricing, price fixing)
  • Price discrimination between consumers
  • Price deception (hidden costs)
  • Artificial promotions/sales
  • Price gouging (exceptionally high prices due to demand)


  • Untruthful advertising
  • Artificial endorsements
  • Misleading comparisons
  • Advertorials
  • Product placements
  • Reinforcing negative stereotypes
  • Unauthorised direct mail
  • Prizes with strings attached
  • Intrusiveness

Distribution (Place):

  • Channel stuffing
  • Bribes/gifts
  • Price fixing
  • Allowances/limits

Ethical conflicts in marketing

Arguments in favour of marketing:

  • Stimulates consumption
  • Benefits the economy
  • Improves living standards
  • Encourages efficiency and innovation

Arguments against marketing:

  • Focused on profit
  • Can have undesirable outcomes
  • Encourages materialism
  • Can have negative environmental impacts
  • Disadvantages some consumers
  • Power is in the hands of marketers

A useful diagram to refer to when considering ethical conflicts in marketing is Corey’s (1996) ‘Force Field’. This diagram illustrates some of the conflicting pressure marketing managers have to face, and is on page 17 of the B324 Block 2 course book.

Ethical frameworks – the ‘CAT scan’

An interesting tool to use for analysing a situation from the perspective of a variety of different ethical frameworks is the Case Analysis Template – or ‘CAT scan’ for short.

CAT scan

Interest-based outlook

Identify interests. Are there conflicting interests with respect to this issue?

Rights-based outlook

Identify rights. Are there rights in conflict with interests or other rights?

Duty-based outlook

Identify duties. Are there tensions with rights or interests?

Virtue-based outlook

Identify virtues. Is character an issue?

Market research

From a social marketing perspective, market research:

  • Aids with strategic planning
  • Acts as a navigational aid
  • Enables client understanding

Essential to consider why, who, what, how, and also how many (if also carrying out quantitative market research).

Why? – the Social Marketing problem – understanding behaviour
Who? – the stakeholders to focus on
What? – qualitative: interviews, focus groups, questionnaires *
How? – use existing secondary data or gather new primary data specifically for this research problem
How many? – use surveys, audits, randomised controlled trials

* There is a need to be aware of Social Desirability Response bias when conducting qualitative market research. This can be countered to a degree by using ‘projective techniques’ – unstructured and indirect questioning.

See also Chapter 5 of Hastings & Domegan, 2014 for more.