Societal Impacts of Marketing

Topic: Product (Controversial Product)

Characters: Len Quill, Buyer for Artifacts, an importer of ethnic arts; Mary Mathers, Len’s boss at Artifacts, Ltd.; Bob Littman, Art gallery owner


Len Quill has been working for Artifacts, Ltd., an importer of ethnic arts, for four years. Len was uniquely suited for a position at Artifacts, having majored in marketing and majored in cultural anthropology in college. Len started his career at Artifacts in the importing department of the home office in the U.S. He soon became a buyer, traveling through South America and buying native arts from local communities. One of his major sources of artifacts is the Puna Native American tribe. Len became so interested in the tribe that he learned their native language, and now he is the only person from Artifacts who works directly with the Punas.

On a stop back at headquarters, Len’s boss, Mary Mathers, has asked Len to join her and a client for lunch. The client is Bob Littman, who owns several art galleries specializing in ethnic arts. Bob is very interested in the arts of the Puna Native Americans. The Puna Native Americans make woven baskets which are very distinctive. The shapes, patterns, and colors of each basket denote symbols of important events in the tribe’s long history. Although Bob is interested in the baskets, he wants to change the patterns and colors to reflect the tastes of his customers. It would be Len’s job to market the idea to the Punas. Of course, the Native Americans would receive a good price for their wares. Although the Punas are not poverty stricken, there is certainly room to improve their standard of living. Mary Mathers is very enthusiastic about this opportunity; it will result in a large profit for Artifacts, Ltd.

Len is not sure he wants to convince the Punas to change their artwork. As an anthropology major, Len learned of many societies which weakened when basic cultural symbols were changed. Even if the Punas are eager to enter into the contract to make the new type of baskets, Len is concerned that they are not aware of the damage such changes can do to their society.

Len is leaving in a week for his next trip to South America. He is still unsure about how to handle the deal with Bob Littman. No contract has been signed, nor will a contract be signed until and unless Len gets an agreement from the Puna tribal council. Just as he is pondering this situation, Mary calls him into her office. Mary informs him that, if the Puna are willing to make baskets according to his specifications, Bob Littman insists on placing a large order that will be due in a short period of time. Len knows that in order to meet the deadline, the Puna would need to have both men and women working on the baskets. Traditionally, however, making the baskets has been women’s work.

Author: Judy Cohen, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Rider College.

What Are the Relevant Facts?

  1. There is a demand for a product which the Puna Native Americans are able to fill.
  2. With his background in anthropology, Len is aware of how changing a culture can harm a society.
  3. The deal with the Punas is in Len’s hands; he is the only person from Artifacts who has contact with the Punas.
  4. If the Punas are willing to meet Bob Littman’s demands, it will be a lucrative contract for the tribe.
  5. Even if making the new types of baskets does not harm Puna society, we can assume that changing traditional gender roles, which would be necessary to meet the deadline, will disrupt their society.

What Are the Ethical Issues?

  1. Should the Punas be allowed to decide whether to agree to the contract offered by Bob Littman, even though they would probably not be aware of the potential damage to their society?
  2. Should the Punas be considered a vulnerable group (similar to other poorly educated people and children) and be protected from making a potentially harmful decision?

Who Are the Primary Stakeholders?

  • Len Quill
  • Artifacts, Inc.
  • Bob Littman
  • Customers of Bob
  • Littman’s galleries
  • The Punas

What Are the Possible Alternatives?

  1. Len could present Bob’s offer enthusiastically.
  2. Len could present Bob’s offer but include a cautionary note about similar cases where harm was done to societal structure.
  3. Len could pretend to have made the offer to the Punas and tell Mary Mathers that the Punas refused the offer.

What Are the Ethics of the Alternatives?

Alternative l: We will assume that Len presents the offer with such enthusiasm that the Punas accept the agreement to make baskets per Bob Littman’s specifications.

  • Utilitarian Perspective:
  1. Len Quill, Artifacts, and Bob Littman gain because they now have a new, marketable product. Bob Littman’s customers benefit because they are able to buy a product which meets their needs. The Punas gain economically, but they may be harmed socially. Len will be negatively affected because he feels partially responsible for the Punas’ fate.
  2. Is this the greatest good for the greatest number? It is a close call. One could argue that because harm to Puna society is not definitely an outcome, it should be given less weight. If this argument holds, the greatest good for the greatest number prevails.
  • Deontological Perspective:
  1. Categorical Imperative. What if all people in developing countries agreed to change their art styles to meet the demands of outsiders? The system would not break down, unless such cultural mayhem followed that the people lost their ability to supply any artifacts.
  2. No rights are violated, in the sense that the Punas are deciding their own fate. One could argue that the Punas have a right to full disclosure, i.e., to know the potential problems which might arise when their society undergoes rapid change due to changing art forms and changing gender roles.
  3. Everyone is treated equally; the whole Puna tribe is being asked to develop a new [artistic style]. According to this analysis, having Punas develop a new art form based on their traditional one appears to be ethical. This is partly because we really cannot be sure that developing a new art form will do great damage to their society. The one area where an ethical principle is definitely violated is the lack of full disclosure of the potential negative outcome of accepting the contract.

Alternative 2: Len could make the offer but inform the Punas of the potential dangers of accepting the offer.

  • Utilitarian Perspective:
  1. Since we do not know if Len would convince the Punas to refuse the offer, our utilitarian analysis is limited. If the Punas accept, the analysis would be the same as in the above alternative.
  2. If they reject the offer, Artifacts, Inc, Bob Littman, and Bob’s customers will be negatively affected. The Punas will be negatively affected by the loss of income but will be positively affected by feeling that they have protected their society. Since the Punas are the largest group and they would have a net benefit (having decided themselves that the cost of the lost income is less than the benefits of a stable society), one can conclude that the greatest good for the greatest number has been obtained.
  • Deontological Perspective:
  1. Categorical Imperative. What would happen if all decisions were made with as full knowledge as possible? The system would not break down.
  2. The Punas’ rights to full disclosure have been met.
  3. Everyone is treated equally.
  4. Alternative 2 is ethical, based on all of the above analyses.

Alternative 3: Len would not make the offer, and then

pretend the Punas have rejected it.

  • Utilitarian Perspective:
  1. Artifacts, Inc., Bob Littman, and his customers will be negatively affected because they will not have the new product. The Punas will be negatively affected because they will lose the contract, but they may be positively affected if in fact the contract would have hurt their society. Len will be negatively affectedbecause he has filed to get the agreement from the Punas but positively affected because he feels he has saved a society from possible harm.
  1. Because we do not know if in fact Puna society has been saved from harm, this outcome should be given less weight. The greatest good for the greatest number has not been obtained.
  • Deontological Perspective:
  1. Categorical Imperative. Len would be lying by claiming the Punas rejected the offer. Lying violates the categorical imperative principle.
  2. The Punas have lost the right to determine their own destiny. Therefore, their rights are violated.
  3. Len is lying to everyone (Artifacts, Bob Littman, and the Punas, by not informing them of the offer) equally. Justice is not violated. But because everyone is treated poorly, it is not applicable in this case.
  4. The analysis shows that, although his intentions may be good, Len would be acting unethically if he did not inform the Punas of the offer.

What Are the Practical Constraints?

  1. Len will not be held in such high esteem by his boss, Mary, if he does not make the deal. But his job is not in jeopardy.

What Actions Should Be Taken?

  1. Len should inform the Punas of the offer but fully disclose the possible negative outcome of agreeing to the deal The Punas have a right to decide whether to agree to the offer, but they should do so with as much useful information as possible.