The idea for this post started during the lecture on ethics. Two modern ethical frameworks were discussed – teleology and deontology. I have faced ethical problems at my work place and I never took decisions based on these theories or in other words, my decisions didn’t fit in to these theories.

Using teleology or consequentialism, people take decisions based on the greater good. It takes a position where few people can be “sacrificed”, if the actions create benefits for a greater number of people. In simple words, US army drone attacks are legitimized based on this argument. Deontology, on the other hand is built on the rules or the duty of an individual towards the society. It is based on the welfare of an individual and rules are universal – for instance, people can’t differentiate between an adult and a child.

As I couldn’t fit my decisions in to any of these, I went in search and got the answer from an ancient Tamil (my mother tongue) text Thirukkural (1330 couplets written on virtue, ethics, politics and love). Although, there are about 380 verses on virtue and ethics, the essence can be brought out in one single couplet.

thriukkural virtue virtue ethics in marketing

“From virtue weal and wealth outflow. What greater good can mankind know?”

Western equivalent of virtue ethics was originally based on Aristotle’s theory of eudaemonia but lost track after the introduction of teleology and deontology. A 1958 paper by Elizabeth Anscombe titled “Modern ethical philosophy” kindled the re-emergence of virtual ethics framework.

Virtue ethics depends on the morality of the individual who makes the decision rather than the decision itself. It deals with the character of an individual instead of analyzing the ethical rules or consequences of the action. It doesn’t deal with different situations a person encounters but an overall development of an individual over his lifetime. Virtue ethics is more appropriate because human beings have a tendency to assess the character of a person rather than seeing the goodness of the actions. In plain words, it helps a society to develop good people instead of using rules to deter them from doing bad.

How does it relate to marketing? Let’s take an example. Selling credit cards to hapless customers in India is quite popular. It’s a norm that the credit history of a person should be checked before giving him a new credit card. If a person has a bad credit history, a teleologist might sell the credit card because the bank will ultimately profit through stifling the customer. A deontologist will also make the sale because the customer is definitely happy in receiving a new credit card without thinking about the consequences. But only a sales person who genuinely has a virtue of integrity will take a decision not to sell the credit card considering the well being of the client and also the company in the long run. Coke’s obesity ad could be an example of virtue ethics in play.

Virtue ethics framework has its own negatives like the other normative ethical frameworks. It doesn’t give you clear direction towards actions that can be made when people are in an ethical dilemma but that’s one of the advantages of virtue ethics. Patrick Murphy, one of the flag bearers of modern virtue ethics has come forward with the list of virtues that a marketer/company should posses. They are integrity, fairness, trust, respect and empathy.

A company’s values trickle down based on the inherent values of the top management. The loyalty that we see in Japanese companies or the ‘Dharma’ based decision-making in Indian companies like Tata is all because of in-built virtues. A Buddhism based marketing theory will also have virtue ethics at its centre. A bigger discussion is needed on the right ethical framework for marketers and virtue based ethics could be the answer.

P.S: I think ethical frameworks in marketing needs a larger discussion but this post is an attempt to add virtue ethics framework in to the discussion.

List of references:

  1. Bartolo, B. (2014). The Application of Virtue Ethics in Marketing – The Body Shop Case perspective. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: arts/pdfs/articles/archives/Ethics paper311.pdf [Accessed 5 Nov. 2014].
  2. Character and Virtue Ethics in International Marketing: An Agenda for Managers, Researchers and Educators. (1999). Journal of Business Ethics, [online] 18(1), pp.107-124. Available at: [Accessed 5 Nov. 2014].
  3. Thirukural: Holy and Precious book ever. (2014). 1st ed. [ebook] Creative, p.41. Available at: [Accessed 5 Nov. 2014].


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Posted by Sylvian

Marketing Analyst by profession, a quizzer by passion, a blogger by choice, a poet by chance, a non-conformist by gene and a rebel by birth

One Comment

  1. Brilliant, Pat. I liked the connect with Thirukkural. Anything to do with ethical perspective is shaped by both the individual and the culture. As you rightly pointed out, Japanese companies and the certain Indian companies that follow “Dharma” will have a different perspective than the rest. With so many constructs and variables shaping this decision making process, it will be very interesting to also look at this from the aspect of an advertising agency’s creative making process based on client inputs and the final outputs! :)I love your blog, always and now with topics so close to heart, big time fan! Hope your course is shaping well and you are enjoying your stay in the UK. 🙂


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