Exploitative Ethical Issues In Target Marketing

          This article explores three articles dealing with the issue of the exploitative ethical issues in target marketing. The paper examines the ethical questions, the target groups susceptible to exploitation and how they are exploited and evaluates the regulatory mechanisms recommended by the three articles that are needed to provide solutions to the ethical issues raised in consumer marketing.

         Target marketing can be an effective strategy which can be used by a business to increase its market share and ultimately its sales revenue. However, this becomes exploitative when the business targets a particular group of customers with harmful or potentially harmful products, offers unreasonably higher prices to the targeted group or offering a low quality product to a target group which is not well informed to make a rational choice regarding the product (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997).

          Stephenson (2010) identifies minors as one of the groups that are exploited by many of the target marketing campaigns. Many advertisements are targeted to minors with the intent of influencing their decisions about particular products and ultimately influence purchase decisions towards the product. The ethic of this move is usually questioned because minors are not capable of making informed decisions about a product (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997). This can be identified as exploitation because it takes advantage of minors’ inability to make sound decisions regarding the choice of a particular product based on the available information. Sugar coated cereals and toys are examples of some of the products that exploitatively target minors.

          The elderly are part of the groups that are exploited by target marketers. Given their usually fixed income and more often than not, health problems, they have become a favorite target to promotions of products that give assurance of good health and affordability (Choudhury, 2003). Although it may be argued that the elderly, unlike minors, are capable of making informed decisions, it is still exploitative to continuously bombard them with product promotions aimed at influencing them in making purchases of products which may be not useful to them.

          Patients under medical care are also victims of exploitative target marketing (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997). Many pharmaceutical companies run advertisements about their products which are supposed to treat various ailments. Patients sometimes even go ahead and request their physicians to use particular drugs that they have seen being promoted. This is exploitative because it interferes with the sound advice on prescriptions that a physician should offer to a patient.

          Ethnic minorities are also a group that is usually victim to target marketing (Choudhury, 2003). It is exploitative for businesses to develop products which are potentially harmful and target market them to ethnic minorities. Heavy advertising of tobacco products and alcohol with the aim of targeting an ethnic minority can be viewed as exploitation since the long term costs of using such a product are very high to the community.

          Third world countries are also victims of exploitative target marketing. Since literacy levels in many third world countries are low, there exists no perfect information on the usage of some of the products purchased as a result of target marketing. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides sold to third world farmers are examples of the products which lead to exploitation of the consumer due to misinformation. Any potentially harmful effect of a product should be made known to the potential consumers during promotion.

          Rittenburg and Parthasarathy (2007) recommend that in product promotion, businesses should attempt to provide perfect information to potential consumers. This will ensure that consumers make informed purchase decisions about a product and purchasing decisions based on misinformation will be reduced.

          Increased regulation on promotions targeting minors should be encouraged (Choudhury, 2003). The role of parental guidance in the purchasing decisions of minors should be emphasized. This will work towards ensuring that exploitative target marketing towards minors is reduced. Promotions targeting the elderly and the sick should also be strictly regulated to ensure that the line between acceptable target marketing and exploitative target marketing is not crossed (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997). Further, target marketing of pharmaceuticals which are not over the counter drugs should be done away with and only let physicians have the final say about the prescription drugs administered to patients.



Choudhury, P. (2003). Consumer Interests and the Ethical Implication of marketing: A contingency framework. Journal of consumer affairs, 37(2), 364-387.

Rittenburg, T., & Parthasarathy, M. (1997). Ethical implications of target market selection. Journal of Macromarketing, 17(2), 49-65.

Stephenson, J. (2010). Is Target Marketing Ethical? Retrieved from


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