There has been significant criticism leveled against the branding practices of companies, and most particularly those of multinationals, which have been raised. Drawing on the academic literature this work will identify the primary arguments used in these critiques and will critically examine those arguments and discuss their implications for branding in the age of globalization. This study will further answer the question of how branding has changed under the influence of such criticism and how.
The work entitled "Is Marketing Ethical? Is Marketing Socially Responsible? What is the Philosophy of Marketing? Caveat Emptor!" poses the question as to whether marketing is ethical…socially responsible and additionally asks the question of what is the philosophy of marketing? The function and practice of marketing is stated to have been criticized because it is claimed that it "deliberately creates partial truths about products and services and exploits the fears and weaknesses of fellow human beings." (Marketing Ethics and Criticism, 2012) The marketing of ethics is criticized quite frequently since marketing is the only function of business that "sets out to emphasize the gap between a person's reality and their expectations in such a way that people feel lacking in either self-esteem or possessions so that they feel compelled to close the gap by unnecessary spending." (Marketing Ethics and Criticism, 2012)
Often the criticism leveled at practitioners is of a personal nature since they are characterized as "vapid unscrupulous individuals who believe they hold superior knowledge about human behavior, motivation, persuasion, influence." (Marketing Ethics and Criticism, 2012) The marketing profession is criticized from the academic managerial standpoint "because it exists in a state of topic uncriticality…making claims to be a profession when it only attracts self-opinionated gurus and mystics with a lack of intellectual rigor and commercial discipline." (Marketing Ethics and Criticism, 2012) From a philosophical viewpoint, much of the criticism towards marketing comes from a postmodern stance in opposition to what is predominantly positivistic and managerialist of the pro-marketing and academic as well as business management literature. The customer is essentially viewed as a resource in the market that should be exploited for the gain of shareholders with little regard to the systemic problems created by such behavior.
Marketing has sought to acquire scientific credibility for nearly a century. Marketing is stated to "either explicitly or implicitly" endorse the philosophy of Milton Friedman and the accompanying belief that that the end is somehow justification for the means. From this view the only entity to which stakeholders are accountable are shareholders. Marketing is stated to be commonly understood as being "…in the persuasion business and in doing that it naturally presents a biased version of products and services." (Marketing Ethics and Criticism, 2012)
I. The 'Brand'
The work of Grannell (2003) states that it is rare when a new addition to the business vocabulary has been able to "match the impact that 'brand' has had. In a few short years, this word has taken root firmly in the business vernacular. Some people view "brand" with suspicion; they suspect something lightweight a triumph of style over substance, a kind of "flower arranging" for business. And yet, paradoxical though it may seem, these brands (and observations about them) can strike fear into CEOs, knock millions off share prices, and cost people their jobs. So brands are far from inconsequential, but are they cosmetic or indeed malevolent?"
Brands are of key importance and Grannell states it is easy to understand why in light of the consideration of the individual's buying behavior starting with the drinks, magazines and other purchase including where one shops. Brands are reported by Grannell to be "about people's perceptions, which explains why brands are worth so much." (2003) Brand choice is stated to be such that it is "driven by a hunch, but a remembered story, by a perception of good corporate citizenship, by experience, by a thousand little reasons which become important at the second that the decision to purchase is made." (Grannell, 2003)
A brand is therefore "the sum of all the perceptions held by a particular audience about a firm's products or services." (Grannell, 2003) In order to understand what branding really means this study refers the reader to nbstudio.co.uk which states that what the branding and communication studio 'NB' does is comprised by both 'thinking' and 'doing'. Under the heading of 'thinking' listed are words such as "creativity, ideas, naming, brand positioning, branch architecture, brand guardianship, competitor and communications audits, tone of voice, interviews and customer journey. (NB, 2012) Under the heading of the word 'Doing' listed are words such as "brand identity, websites, brand guidelines, literature, packaging, direct mail, annual reports, exhibitions, and campaigns. (NB, 2012) It is clear that marketing of brands is undertaken as a science in terms rigor used in studying what marketing and branding techniques are likely to be more effective.
Parsons (2007) reports in the work entitled "Integrating Ethics with Strategy: Analyzing Disease-Branding" that communication strategies that organizations attempt to use are the focus of public criticism and the example stated is disease-branding which is a 'non-branded approach' in marketing pharmaceuticals directly to customers. Some hold that this is "disease-mongering, this promotion of diseases rather than drugs neatly side-steps the increasing criticism and even legal obstacles that face or threaten to face direct-to-consumer advertising of branded prescription drugs." (Parsons, 2007) Yes, it is innovative according to Parsons however, findings in the study reported show that there is a need for ethical analysis in this endeavor.
II. Ethical Branding and Marketing
Just as in the case previously described in which pharmaceutical companies are marketing directly to consumers persuading them to buy medications for treating a disease, other ethical issues have come to the fore of the public discussion. The work of Ying Fan (2005) entitled "Ethical Branding and Corporate Reputation" states as follows of research on ethics in branding and marketing initiatives:
"Ethics has been studied in almost all business issues except branding. Not a single academic study has been found on branding ethics after an extensive literature search covering the following sources: three online database (ABI Inform Global, Ebsco and Infotrac), three journals (Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Brand Management and Journal of Product and Brand Management), dozens of books and websites." (Fan, 2005)
Fan states that brands, while existing for many thousands of years, have never been as powerful as in today's society. Brands are stated to be "prevalent in every aspect of human life: production and consumption, food and clothing, personality and lifestyle, and from pop culture to politics. Branding is no longer just about adding value to a product; branding represents and promotes lifestyles and brands themselves become a kind of culture." (Fan, 2005)
The branding and marketing initiative was stated by Hazel Kahan and cite din Hall (1999) as being of the nature that "brands are now gunning for a share of consumers' inner lives, their values, their beliefs, their politics; and yes, their souls." (Fan, 2005) The impacts of branding has traveled far outside the marketing and advertising field and is a "social construct as well as an economic construct. As an economic construct, brands have not yet been fully understood owing to the dearth of academic research in this area. Advertising is probably the most visible element of marketing but branding is at the centre of any marketing communications. Most problems with advertising have their roots in branding strategy." ( )
The work of Ian Cocoran entitled "Brands Get the Blame" states that the concept of brand controversy,
"...has been around for years and perhaps entered its darkest hour in 1984, when a poisonous gas leak from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killed 8,000 people almost instantly. Since then, the death toll associated with the incident has risen to 16,000 and Greenpeace still classifies the area as a 'Global Toxic Hotspot.' Only 5 years later in 1989, the Exxon Valdez was grounded on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling almost 11-million gallons of crude oil from its hold. The environmental impact was huge, as countless fish, bird and other local wildlife species were lost and the contamination spread 2400 miles along the shoreline of the Kenai Peninsula. Not only were these incidents catastrophic in terms of their loss of human life and their impact on the environment, but the intrinsic damage that was sustained by both the Union Carbide and Exxon brands provided both companies with a legacy that shrouded them in shame. Thankfully though, disasters of this magnitude are rare and although calamitous in their consequences, have served to focus public opinion and tighten legislation, minimizing the risk of further reoccurrence." (Cocoran, 2012)
According to Cocoran underneath the industrial ordinance at the very top tier is a "deeper and more surreptitious layer of corporate malpractice that goes largely unseen by the public eye." (Cocoran, 2012) However, it is stated that while Exxon and Carbide disaster were unaware of the "pathogenic circumstances" the organizations involved in such disasters generally are…