Philosophy 223 Marketing and Vulnerability Marketing and Manipulation



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Philosophy 223

Marketing and Manipulation

  • Our analysis of advertising and autonomy suggested that directing advertising at reflective established desires is ethically appropriate.
  • On the other hand, advertising aimed at desires not so established is ethically inappropriate.
    • Such desires would seemingly include those grounded in fears, anxieties, and whims.

Nature and Types of Vulnerability

  • Vulnerability refers to a susceptibility to harm; more specifically it refers to factors that individuals possess that makes them more susceptible than their fellows.
  • Individuals exhibit General Vulnerability when a physical or psychological feature they exhibit makes them susceptible to some harm.
    • Examples: the elderly, addicts.
  • Individuals exhibit Consumer Vulnerability to the extent that their ability to participate in rational exchanges is impaired.
    • Example: children.

Marketing to Vulnerability

  • Marketing techniques can target general vulnerabilities or consumer vulnerabilities.
  • Clearly techniques that target consumer vulnerabilities are illegitimate, on the grounds of our analysis of autonomy.
  • Just as clearly, many general vulnerabilities make individuals vulnerable as consumers.
    • Elderly, infirm are vulnerable to ads that play on their anxieties. Low income people vulnerable to high priced consumer goods.

Brenkert, “Marketing and the Vulnerable”

  • This essay defends the view that some consumers lack “market competency” and that such vulnerable individuals should not be targeted by marketers in ways that take advantage of their vulnerability.

Market Competency

  • The knowledge that one should shop around. Market competency includes:
    • The ability to determine differences in quality and the best price;
    • Knowledge of legal rights;
    • Knowledge of the products and their characteristics;
    • Possession of appropriate resources.

An Account of Vulnerability

  • Vulnerable individuals operate with conditions or incapacities that impede their ability as normal market participants.
  • These vulnerabilities are magnified when we think about their implications.
    • Less able to protect their interests
    • Possess these vulnerabilities due to factors beyond their control
    • Often unaware of their vulnerabilities
    • Vulnerabilities render them susceptible to harm

Justified Market Relations

  • Morally justified market relations require that all participants be capable of exhibiting market competency.
  • Individuals who are simply lazy should not count as vulnerable.
  • It is not morally acceptable to market goods to especially vulnerable people with the intention of taking advantage of their vulnerability.

Elliot, “The Drug Pushers”

  • The context of Elliot’s article is the potential conflict between the duties of doctors to their patients and the goals of pharmaceutical reps (to get doctors to prescribe their companies’ medications).
  • Though not necessarily conflicting, the different foci of these two parties can present significant moral concerns.

Gene Carbona

  • As the anecdotes of Mr. Carbona, supported by other participants in the industry and studies in the medical literature, demonstrate, the persuasive efforts of drug reps have a significant impact on drug sales.
  • In and of itself, this should pose few concerns. However, when the drugs in question are of little benefit, or even pose possible risks to patients, concerns are legitimate.

Should we be concerned?

  • Consider the following, all gleaned from Elliot’s article:
    • In 1997, the average ROI on a dollar spent on drug repping was $10.29 (twice that on print advertising to physicians and 7 times on print advertising to consumers).
    • The pharmaceutical industries lobbying organization is the largest in the country.
    • 9 out of 10 medical students have been asked or required to attend a pharmaceutical industry sales event.
    • The pharmaceutical industry provides ~90% of the annual monies spent on continuing education for doctors.

Two General Concerns

  • First, referring back to our initial considerations, we should probably wonder about the autonomy of doctors influenced by reps.
    • Particularly in connection two the relationship between first and second order desires.
  • Secondly, there are a number of vulnerabilities to be concerned about: patients, doctors and their staffs, and even, as Elliot suggests at the end of his article, the reps themselves.


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