Conflicts of Interest: Advertising and Marketing and what is sometimes never disclosed

If you strive to sell a product it is well known that a good advertising campaign is essential to getting whatever it is you are trying to sell out to your target audience. There are countless marketing and advertising agencies in the world that construct these marketing strategies and advertisements for some of your favourite products. Agencies are so heavily relied upon as they specialise in building your brand name and any specific product you are associated with in the most effective manner as possible. But, yes there is unfortunately a but, there have been several cases over the past decade that begin to highlight the possible undisclosed information that many larger marketing firms try their best to hide.

Put simply, conflict of interest occurs when there is a conflict between the public interest and personal gain of an employee, business or large company. One recent case that I feel gives us a great insight into the apparently dodgy dealings of these marketing agencies is the recent example of the Media Brands agency IPG and the resale of Youtube Ads.

Advertising on different social media platforms has been discovered by marketing professionals as one of the most effective forms of advertising as it forces uses to watch or see as they scroll past, subconsciously making associations between certain brands and their now apparent need for an ice cream machine that also cooks pancakes, strange analogy I know but it is the effect advertising can have on the human mind. This condition is called “active conditioning “, the process of associating a product with things we like because of constant exposure. Youtube ads are no different. Im sure everybody reading this has at one point in their lives clicked on a YouTube video and had to sit through a minute long ad about McDonalds new burger and after its done you’re annoyed because of the ad and also hungry and have t deal with this entirely new issue. Well, ladies and gentlemen, these pesky ads are hot realestate in the current advertising field and IPG purchased $250 million USD of YouTube inventory, meaning that they had an agenda, to fill as many of these advertising slots as possible, even if it was not in the best interest of the client.

The American Marketing Association has produced a, and please notice my sarcastic tone here, “Marketing Code of Ethics” that they say all marketers around the world adhere too. One of these biblical ethics codes states:

Embrace ethical values. This means building relationships and enhancing consumer confidence in the integrity of marketing by affirming these core values: honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship

Yep, thats right. This elusive “integrity of marketing” that is apparently held in such high regard is contradicted by the case mentioned involving Youtube and IPG and many others that demonstrate how they laugh in the face of the Code of ethics that all marketers should aim to follow.

Now what marketing practitioners should be carful of is the “grey area” that exists within the confines of the ethical issue that we know as conflict of interest because it is often left up to the individuals judgement of what is acceptable and what isn’t. The YouTube and IPG case for example. Is hiding facts that don’t necessarily effect the client but at the same time have financial benefit for the agency considered a breach of conflict of interest that should be disclosed? The answer, put simply to ensure I am not misinterpreted, is yes. As I stated in the beginning, conflict of interest are simply stated as when there is a conflict between the public interest and personal gain of an employee or business and the YouTube ads are no different.

Not only do marketing practitioners need the be aware of the ever changing rules but clients need to constantly asking themselves “Is this marketing decision best for my company or in the agencies best interests?” because unfortunately, hidden financial incentives and undisclosed, lucrative business deals are not the only common breaches of conflicts of interest.

It is a common theme amongst many of the worlds major marketing institutions to represent many major brands, included in this list are competing brands. Agencies like Dentsu and WWP Group are just some of the large agencies that are so large, they can apparently:

Seperate both firms business to other factions of the company as to not display any bias at all and give each client the attention and results they require without any bias

There is still so much confusion about just how much information marketing agencies should be required to disclose and currently it does not look like there is going to be an end to this debate any time soon.

From the marketers point of view, they believe that they shouldn’t have to disclose information such as how much an agency makes and who they are in business with as other business’ like supermarkets or larger tech companies do not have to disclose there profit margins or other financial details either. But, logically speaking, a supermarket has a totally different business model compared to one of a marketing firm. Supermarkets sell food, marketing firms are entrusted with the financial and social success of a company and its respective product so why should the rules be then same?

There are many ethical issues that shroud the media profession as a whole in doubt to the public, none more so than marketing. An industry literally created to manipulate and control our buying habits. Conflicts of interest pose many ethical questions but shouldn’t the answer always be the most ethical correct? Money, control and power in a competitive industry control these decisions in the marketing field and the basic human instinct to always succeed trumps ones ethical voice.

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