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Who Takes Responsibility For Marketing Campaigns

Susan Getgood of Marketing Roadmaps writes a good thoughtful post, which ties up the loose ends of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force/Boston Bomb scare incident.

She asks a question: "That's the ethical issue: what is the responsibility of a marketer to understand the potential effects of the campaign. Not just the goal we set, but the unintended consequences. Where do we draw the line between the responsibility of the marketer to understand and avoid negative effects, and the fact that the response to a marketing campaign is really out of our control.”

I think that any marketer should work within an ethical framework, their own conscience, the laws of the state they live within, and if you are a member of various marketing related associations, the ethics code of the association. Susan asks where do we draw the line--well for Turner it was $2M as that was the price they had to pay for the chaos that resulted from the poorly planned campaign.

There is existing precedent for large companies’ subjected to fines by spreading graffiti in cities IBM was one such example. I would have thought Interference would be aware of these, and would counsel their client to take the legal course of action. If you read Dr. Walter Carl’s quote from the CEO of Interference, the CEO has been writing and talking about guerilla marketing for some time.

I’d go one step further and suggest that just as there have been consequences for Turner from the State because of the incident, perhaps there should be consequences for companies that overstep legal bounds within the marketing community; we’d do that by suspending the companies involved in any national marketing associations they are involved with. This happened to Edelman during the Wal-Mart scandal; Edelman membership in WOMMA was suspended for 90 days. In this case the codes might not actually cover the incident, which is one reason why I’ve called for a review of marketing association ethics codes.

Blogs and consumer generated media are starting to put teeth into association ethics codes, as the consequences for associations not acting is a lack of relevancy and credibility, and in the long term legislation if no action is taken by professional organizations. The Wal-Mart incident gave WOMMA a lot of credibility and boosted the association’s buzz and leadership in the industry above its older peers. Whether you think the Aqua Teen Hunger Force campaign a success or failure, what should be the consequences for a company in their industry if a company breaks ethics rules?