I read an interesting discussion post last week by Tom Egly seeking opinions on a company that distributed a web design RFP requiring spec work from anyone who responded. The spec work they were demanding included home page designs, site architecture, etc. It appeared as if the company in essence wanted everyone who responded to the RFP to do all the work before they would decide which company they would pay for it.
I read an interesting discussion post last week by Tom Egly seeking opinions on a company that distributed a web design RFP requiring spec work from anyone who responded. The spec work they were demanding included home page designs, site architecture, etc. It appeared as if the company in essence wanted everyone who responded to the RFP to do all the work before they would decide which company they would pay for it. I agreed with Tom’s position that this demand seemed unreasonable, while pointing out that given the state of the economy, many companies would still agree to the terms of the RFP even if they felt the request was excessive or unethical.
While there may be differing opinions on the appropriateness of the request in the scenario Tom described, it begs the question: Where is the line drawn between leverage and ethics in marketing?
If you are the owner of a patent on a miracle pill that will cure cancer, you would certainly have the leverage to demand any price you wanted for the drug. However, would it be ethical to set a price point so high that many people suffering from cancer can’t afford it? (This is not intended to launch a debate about health care reform, just an easy to understand example)
While perhaps this is an extreme example, marketers wrestle with ethical issues every day, when identifying target markets, product messaging, positioning, pricing, etc.
However, typically when discussing ethics in marketing we’re usually asking the questions from the buyer’s point of view, not from the seller’s as identified above. But we are in a buyer’s market, and buyers have more leverage today than they have had in generations. So now we’re asking questions about the ethics of demands buyers are making on sellers instead of the other way around. While it is true that no seller has to agree to the the demands of a buyer; perhaps jobs may be on the line. By agreeing to excessive buyer demands a company may find itself in the unenviable position of having to lay off employees to meet the buyer’s offer. Does that make the buyer’s demands unethical in the same sense as it might if a seller demanded a price so high that a buyer has to lay off employees? Or, as in the example above, that the price may prevent a cancer patient from a cure? What about the question of food and beverage marketing in schools (which I addressed in a previous post several weeks ago), or claims made solely as a result of internal research?
As we all know, these types of tough business decisions are made every day. It’s the world we live in and the price of doing business. But how often do we sit back and evaluate the ethics of the decisions we make or how the leverage we may have as sellers or buyers will impact those ethics?
We are in an interesting field, in an interesting city, at an interesting time.