Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 99, Supplement 1, pp 17–21 | Cite as

It’s All on Sale: Marketing Ethics and the Perpetually Fooled

  • Andy WibleEmail author


Discussion of marketing deception has mostly focused on two main areas: first are cases that involve the intentional deception of people who tend to have compromised intelligence, such as children or the elderly, and second are cases that involve intentional falsehoods or the withholding of vital information, such as Madoff’s exploits. This article will differ from most in the field by examining marketing practices that are generally truthful, but deceive almost everyone. These practices do not fool just small select groups, but are fooling those usually assumed to be rational. For example, we love “free” merchandise so much that we are willing to irrationally settle for less to get the free product. Behavioral economists and psychologists are proving that, as Dan Ariely puts it, most all of us are “Predictably Irrational.” Is it wrong for marketers to take advantage of the mass’s foibles as it is wrong to take advantage of children? The article will look at some of the behavioral economists’ data, how that data affects the rational and ignorant person standards of marketing, and suggest the reflective rational person standard as a way to morally evaluate marketing techniques given this new data.


Marketing ethics Behavioral economics Rational person standard Advertising ethics 


  1. Ariely, D. (2009). Predictably irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions (Rev. ed.). New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  2. Galbraith, J. K. (1976). The affluent society (3rd ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  3. Levitt, T. (1974). The morality of advertising. Harvard Business Review, 48(July–August), 84–92.Google Scholar
  4. Preston, I. L. (1996). The great American blow-up: Puffery in advertising and selling (Rev. ed.). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 121–123.Google Scholar
  5. Velasquez, M. (2006). Business ethics: Cases and concepts (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, p. 286.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Muskegon Community CollegeMuskegonUSA

Personalised recommendations