Psychology, Marketing and Ethics: Can it ever be a happy ending?

  • Psychology, Marketing and Ethics: Can it ever be a happy ending?

    The recent scandal surrounding Facebook's ‘emotion experiments' has brought to the foreground the controversial role of psychology in marketing and advertising. By manipulating news feed content, Facebook and scientists from two US universities were able to alter the emotional state of the user, causing them to post negative or positive updates depending on which messages they were exposed to. Questions were understandably raised in concern to the ethics of this experiment, and in particular the vulnerability and unawareness of the consumer.

    But what's wrong with that? Surely, understanding how the consumer thinks and what influences their decision making is a key part of being a successful marketer. Tailoring marketing activities based on known consumer behaviour, thought processes and preferences is essential. However, controversy arises when the consumer is subliminally manipulated against their will, leading them to make poor or unfounded choices.

    A prime example of this, whilst also ringing ethical alarm bells, is subliminal marketing. Although subliminal messages have been banned from UK television screens, it is surprising to look a bit closer at some marketing campaigns and well-known brands. The FedEx corporate logo for example, boasts imagery in the negative space between the letters, signifying a strong and direct service to the consumer. This is only a mild example of subliminal messaging; a Google search will uncover what a common occurrence this was in the advertising industry a few decades ago.


    With messaging in marketing and advertising becoming increasingly subtle and often undetectable to the consumer, it is no wonder that many feel as if they are being hoodwinked. The sense of ‘losing control' of our choices as consumers is one which will be met with strong resistance. While many aspects of psychology are relevant for modern marketing, it is important that we remember that B2B and B2C are only effective up to a point - it's often easy to forget that marketing is always ‘human to human'.

    At The Marketing Eye, we pride ourselves with maintaining the ‘human touch' with all our client communications and marketing activities. No mind games, just visible results.

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