'Ethical' Attitudinizing Slammed by UK Marketing Body

13 January 2005

Britain's Chartered Institute of Marketing has boldly nipped the hand that feeds it - its own membership.

The CIM - the world's largest professional marketing body with 55,000 members in 130 countries - is to be taken seriously when it waves an admonitory finger.

Which it did earlier this week. Concerned at the increasing mistrust and cynicism displayed by consumers toward the ad industry, the CIM has published a new report: New Year's Revolution: Morality in Marketing.

This cites recent research [WAMN: 09-Dec-04] revealing that advertisers command the trust of only three per cent of consumers - second only to used car salesmen. And that loudly-trumpeted ethical stances are seen by the public as marketing stratagems devised to mask unethical behaviour.

The report doesn't pull its punches. It fingers such household names as The Body Shop, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Nike and Tesco for ethical posturing unsupported by their real-life conduct.

"Corporate social responsibility and fair trade are being hijacked by unscrupulous marketers as they make ever more cynical sales pitches," accuses the document. Marketing companies must "put their money where their mouth is" and establish a moral framework to underpin their business.

Unusually for any critique from within the heart of the marketing industry, there are no sacred cows. Consumers' ebbing trust in 'ethical trading' initiatives is laid squarely at the doors of Britain's major supermarkets

"We believe that when supermarkets increase their profits from fair trade products whilst claiming to be ethical, something is deeply amiss - they have used 'ethical' stances to mask immoral behaviour."

Specifically excluded from this censure are the Co-operative Bank, fashion chain Hennes & Mauritz, Marks & Spencer and upscale supermarketeer Waitrose.

H&M receives particular praise for its stringent rules eschewing sweatshop labour, also for its support of the charity WaterAid. And most notably for not trying to cash-in by publicly promoting its stance.

Concurrent with the report, the CIM also published results from another survey revealing that over one-third of UK consumers believe brand owners should educate customers on responsible use of their products.

Nearly half the higher-income respondents (44%) say companies should educate consumers, while a mere 10% disagreed. Fifty-four per cent did not have a strong opinion one way or the other.

Says CIM manager of insights David Thorp: "These findings highlight the need to communicate with consumers about responsible use of products such as junk food and alcohol."

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff