Chasing ambulances? Consider the ethical implications when marketing
By Steven McCarty
The National Ethics Association
As marketers, business professionals often view the world through a narrow lens — whether a sales technique is effective or not. Although that’s an important consideration, equally crucial is whether the tactic is ethical. Unfortunately, too many businesspeople rush to adopt effective actions without considering their ethical implications. Here’s a case in point.
On an Internet community, a newbie requested feedback on a prospecting technique: sending marketing letters to the relatives of recently deceased people. (“Uh-oh,” we thought.) The person had tried sending 100 letters to people mentioned in a newspaper obituary, but didn’t get any responses. Given the time investment required, the questioner was wondering whether anyone else had achieved success with such letters.
Why “uh-oh?” Because in this day and age, shouldn’t the impropriety of ambulance chasing be self-evident? We’ve all read about personal injury attorneys trying to solicit clients at the scene of accidents. I believe most reasonable people view such behavior as morally repugnant. And to their credit, bar associations often sanction attorneys who engage in this practice.
But the newbie was oblivious. He was 100 percent focused on marketing utility, not ethics. Even more shocking was the response of several of his peers. “You’re nuts with a capital N if you expect people to get a letter and call you from it,” counseled one agent, who then, equally oblivious, recommended adding a follow-up phone call. Others also seemed unperturbed about the newbie’s insensitive request.
To their credit, several ethical folks jumped into the fray. “Why not attend the funeral and put fliers on the windshield of all the cars,” said one with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Or better yet,” said another, “just stand up in the middle of the funeral and tell all of the people how happy you are that you helped the widow.”
We were glad to see them stand up for ethics during the exchange, but we remained stunned by the newbie’s total lack of ethical awareness. Fortunately for him, the lack of consumer response will hopefully prevent him from sending out more letters. But what about other agents — new and experienced — who adopt ethically questionable marketing tactics? Who will protect them from themselves?
Don’t let this happen to you. Protect yourself by making decisions the smart way. Here’s what to do:
- Study your options carefully.
- Make a mental note of everyone affected by each option.
- Assess who benefits or suffers from each option.
- Reflect on whether you’d be able to live with yourself after making each choice.
- Total up all the factors and make a final (smart) decision.