A Kohlbergian Approach to Emergent Challenges in Marketing Communications: A Prescriptive for the Ethical Organization

Dr. Mary Ellen Schiller
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This paper emerged from the experience of teaching a required ethics course in a master's level program in integrated marketing communications (M.S.I.M.C.) to non-traditional aged students (often practitioners) at an urban university. The students in the program are aggressive, market goal-oriented individuals who approach the course with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. The curiosity is rooted in a lack of knowledge of ethical theories, concepts and decision frameworks (most have avoided any philosophy courses as undergraduates), while the skepticism is rooted in a relativistic perspective conjoined with a belief in the legal code as an adequate guide to moral behavior in any area of business enterprise.

The pedagogical approach described is based in the recognition of the specific realities of professional activity within the broad arena of marketing communications. Those realities include: the globalization of the marketplace; the development/diffusion of new communication technologies; the competitive environment; the often conflicting obligations of those engaged in marketing-related activities; and, the tendency to rationalize questionable practices. Ultimately, the approach involves drawing on Lawrence Kohlberg's "stage" theory of moral development to provide both an argument for a concept of ethical behavior that moves beyond the relativistic (bounded by legalistic), and the foundation for a moral decision framework useful to practitioners.

The approach begins with a detailing of the ethical dimensions of the wide range of issues and interfaces within the IMC realm. Examples are offered related to consumer behavior and decision making, marketing research, segmentation, advertising, public relations, sales promotion, personal selling, and direct marketing communications. It moves on to identify: the marketplace as a social construct; communication as the human capability that enables the establishment, maintenance and evolution of all social realities; and participants in marketing communications activities, especially those in managerial positions, as social constructivists. It argues then for the value to all stakeholders of the construction of a marketplace that is characterized by moral/ethical cognition of an order higher than that which underlies a law-based entity.

The approach then examines Kohlberg's work and position that moral growth at the higher stages is founded in the recognition of the existence of principle above and independent of "cultural values", and, most significantly, that such moral growth is beneficial to affected parties. Case applications are offered.

Keywords: Ethics, Marketing Communications, "Stages of Maral Reasoning", Knowledge - Ethical Concepts
Stream: Knowledge, Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Providing Knowledge for Ethical Practice in Marketing Communications

Dr. Mary Ellen Schiller

Associate Professor, School of Communication, Roosevelt University

Dr Mary Ellen Schiller is an Associate Professor of Communications in the College of Arts and Sciences. She teaches undergraduate and graduate students in journalism, communications and integrated marketing communications. Her research and writing have focused on the social impact of communication technologies and mass media, marketing ethics, and intercultural communication. In recent years she has developed an interest in the science of complexity - in particular regarding patterns of behavior discernible in all complex systems – and its applications to social constructs. She currently edits IMC Review: Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications. In addition to her academic career, Mary Ellen has worked professionally as a writer, and in publishing and marketing. She has also served as a consultant to a variety of businesses and organizations. Mary Ellen is a life-long Chicagoan and received her education at DePaul University, Loyola University and Northern Illinois University (Ed.D., 1999). Her bachelor's and master's degrees are in English literature and her doctorate in IT/Communication Studies. Prior to coming to Roosevelt University, Mary Ellen taught at Wright College, Triton College and William Rainey Harper College, as well as at Loyola University (Chicago).

Ref: H05P0588