Ethical Choice of Market Targets

Market targeting sometimes generates public controversy.34 The public is concerned when marketers take unfair advantage of vulnerable groups (such as children) or dis-advantaged groups (such as inner-city poor people), or promote potentially harmful products. For example, the cereal industry has been criticized for marketing to children. Critics worry that high-powered appeals presented through the mouths of lovable animated characters will overwhelm children's defenses and lead them to eat too much sugared cereal or poorly balanced breakfasts.

As another example, R. J. Reynolds was criticized for plans to market Uptown, a menthol cigarette targeted toward low-income African Americans. Recently, internal documents from R. J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (marketer of the Kool brand) have revealed the extent to which these companies target black youths aged 16 to 25, particularly with menthol brands.35

Not all attempts to target children, minorities, or other segments draw criticism. Colgate-Palmolive's Colgate Junior toothpaste has special features designed to get children to brush longer and more often. Golden Ribbon Playthings has developed a highly acclaimed and very successful black character doll named "Huggy Bean" to connect minority consumers with their African heritage. Other companies are also responding to the needs of specific segments. Black-owned ICE theaters noticed that although moviegoing by blacks has surged, there is a dearth of inner-city theaters, so it began opening theaters in Chicago and other cities. ICE partners with the black communities in which it operates, using local radio stations to promote films and featuring favorite foods at concession stands.36

Thus, in the choice of market targets, the issue is not who is targeted, but rather how and for what purpose. Socially responsible marketing calls for targeting and positioning that serve not only the company's interests but also the interests of those targeted.37

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