To begin this paper I would first give a definition of what Marketing Ethics is. From what I have gathered “Marketing ethics is the area of applied ethics which deals with the moral principles behind the operation and regulation of marketing.” (www.wikipedia.org). It is common knowledge that the area of ethics is rather wide. People sometimes confuse ethics with that of morality. Thus, a distinction may be called upon in order to understand things better. Ethics is vaster than that of morality.
Ethics is the study of values and customs of a group of people. Ethics is divided into three parts, meta-ethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. Of the three, marketing ethics is under applied ethics. Now, when one talks about morality a clear distinction must be made between ethics and morality. By morality, one means simply a concept under ethics which dwells with matters of right and wrong.
Having made the distinction let us now go on to what is meant by applied ethics from whence marketing ethics is a part. Applied ethics is something which aims to apply theoretical ethics such as utilitarianism, Kantianism among many others to real world dilemmas. (www.wikipedia.org). Such is one of the purposes of this paper. Upon closely examining the way Subway operates we will then go on to look and to evaluate from two different ethical perspectives whether Subway is doing something unethical or not.
In this paper I choose two contrasting ethical frameworks that of Utilitarianism and Kantianism, to examine the way Subway operate according to these two ethical standards. I will now move on to introducing the side of the two ethical issues.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant developed Kantianism. His ethics is called deontological because it revolves primarily around duty. All actions should be done according to duty because it is what we “ought to” do. For Kant, all humans are rational being and thus humans ought to know what is good and what is bad which can be seen on his idea of categorical imperative. This is what I meant earlier by doing something because you “ought to” do it.
It is categorical imperative because you have no other choice but to do it, thus the term “ought”. Kant pays little respect for things done out of emotion or feelings, thus for him, saving a drowning child out of pity is not a moral thing to do. The only moral thing for him are things done out of duty. According to Kant the consequence of an action holds no bearing in making it a moral act. For him humans are different from other animals because of our faculty of reason. Thus, we must treat each and everyone with respect simply on the grounds that s/he is human and thus one does not deserve and should not be treated simply as a means towards an end.
The second ethical framework I chose is utilitarianism. In utilitarianism the moral worth of an action is determined by the utility it has to offer. It is the exact opposite of Kantianism in that for a utilitarian sacrificing a person to achieve a better end is not bad. If an action would produce the betterment of the many then it is okay for them to sacrifice a few if such is the only way to save more people. For example, if the world is taken over by aliens and the only way to save it is to offer the hearts of twenty very young children as a sacrifice and to appease the intruders so that they would leave us alone, then the action the world must take, for a utilitarian, is to do the offering as soon as possible.
There is no room for pity or the like if such would be the only means there is to save the world. The rights of the twenty chosen children to live would be overridden by the lives of the remaining population of the world. Such is the way a utilitarian point of view operates. Also, for a utilitarian the unique ability of humans is their ability to feel pleasure and pain. So, for a utilitarian the moral thing to do is one that would produce the higher amount of pleasure. The utilitarians believe that the end justifies the means. Seeing the philosophy utilitarians live by one must clearly see that it is the exact anti-thesis of Kantianism.
Before analyzing the marketing strategy of Subway one must first have a background of what Subway is. Subway is a multinational restaurant franchise. The foods they offer are mainly that of salads and sandwiches. Subway, a health restaurant which is very concern over diet and nutrition, is founded in 1965 by Fred de Luca and Peter Buck. Subway is very famous and very successful worldwide even though the foods they offer are rather expensive. Their success may be attributed to the fact that they know or they try to know the mentality of their customers. The restaurant is very health conscious which a very common trend is nowadays, with everyone trying their best in order not to be overweight.
Having discussed the two ethical frameworks I would later use on this paper, I would now move on to the evaluation of the marketing strategy of Subway. To begin, I would first give a lay-out of how subway does their marketing. I have read one article of how subway did some of its marketing. On this particular article Subway chose a rather unique form of advertising which shocked and enraged Americans. They managed to enrage the Americans by promoting the film “Super Size Me” and by using as an advertisement the fat statue of Liberty holding some burgers and fries with a bold headline saying “WHY ARE AMERICANS SO FAT?” Of course the Americans are known to be people who show great value on their prides thus the advertisement caused them to get mad. There are Americans who believes that the advertisement is immoral.
Looking at an unbiased point of view I think that what Subway did is of course insensitive and a little off the mark. However, companies would do everything in their power in order to attract more customers. For that, I would say that Subway indeed succeeding in doing their marketing strategy by catching the eye of the public. In this regard, I would say that Subway did their marketing on a utilitarian basis. What made me think so would be discussed later on this paper.
Analyzing what Subway did in the point of view of a believer of the Kantian theory, a Kantian would say that what subway did is not acceptable because they treated the Americans as a means to achieve their end which for a Kantian is a crime. For a Kantian, Subway failed to treat the Americans with the respect due to them as individuals. No matter how great the end result would have been for Subway, fact remains that they used others to obtain their end and it is not acceptable. In a Kantian point of view Subway did something wrong.
On a utilitarian point of view however, they would say that if the act Subway did promote greater utility for the most number of people, then Subway could not have did something immoral. Since what they did produced good result then their act is morally acceptable and thus should not be condemned.
Subway wishes to attract kids and tweens for their customers. They are promoting healthy food because they are promoting something about anti-obesity. According to Michelle Cordial, “children don’t want to eat healthy foods although they are talking about healthy food in school”. Teenagers, which make up a large number of their customers, are very much concern with the way they look and they are very much disturbed and conscious with their physical appearance and so I think that Subway chose to promote healthy but delicious food in order to appease and to please teenagers.
As for the kids of younger age, I think that their advertisement and their promotion of healthy food are in order to please the parents. As a parent they would want their children to eat healthy foods and which restaurant offers healthy foods if not Subway? I think that something to that effect must be going on, on the minds of those responsible for the decisions being made in the management of Subway. I mentioned earlier that the target market of Subway is teenagers and children.
How do they aim to do that? Subway did that by thinking of catchy promos which their clients cannot resist. Such promos includes getting key chains and lanyards on their Kids’ Pak meal and value meals and giving a promo from where one may win a chance to have a trip for six to Vans’ Triple Crown of Surfing competitions which would be held on Hawaii from November-December. It is normal for businessmen to improve the market of their products by thinking of promos which their clients cannot resist. Of course, Subway claims to be different from McDonald, KFC and the like.
I think they made that claim because it is common knowledge that foods from such restaurants or fast food chains are high in cholesterol and thus expose their clients into the state of being fat. Claiming to be the same as the fast food chains I mentioned above would contradict the earlier claim made by Subway that they promotes healthy food now, wouldn’t it? I have mentioned earlier that such marketing strategy is very useful because it greatly appeals to their target clients.
Of course, Subway is very successful because they are living up to their standards and because they are capable of thinking of gimmicks which would work and which would appeal greatly to their customers. In this line, I think that the strategy used by Subway is great because it helps attain what they set out to attain. I don’t think that Subway made an unwise choice by opening a branch in Iraq. Of course, before embarking upon a certain project a businessman must first check the location, the population and the like in order to see if their products would be accepted in a certain location or not and thus I think that their decision to open a branch there is made on rational grounds and thus not foolish.
As I have mentioned earlier, Subway is doing very great strategy in that they always try to know their customers. Thus, needless to say their menu varies from one country to another. If they open a branch in a Muslim country, they would omit pork and ham from their menu. Because of this great sensitivity for their customers, I would not have any doubts whatsoever over their success on Iraq. Subways decision to do “Giant Subs”, dependent on the customers likes and dislikes shows their sensitivity and the way they value their customers and because of this it is no wonder that Subway is very successful.
However, as most businesses are, Subway does have its critics. Eric Schlosser is at odds with the way Subway does their franchising, criticizing the way Subway competes with its competitors. Schlosser does not agree with the way Subway selected its position in order to better compete with their competitors. I’ve also read something about Subway fooling their customers.
In the article it is said that Subway is being criticized by nutritionists despite the fact that Subways front is that they are a health restaurant. The criticisms can be clearly seen in this line, “Subway sells ‘trick food’ and hides the fact that many of its food items contain high levels of calories, fooling customers by the ‘less than 6 grams of fat’ signs commonly shown in ads or in stores worldwide.” (www.wikipedia.org).
I would not condemn Subway for the way they operates because such things are common in businesses. Somehow, businessmen can’t help but make a fool of their clients by giving and showing them what they want to see. It is part of business to appear to be something they are not and I don’t think, not even for a minute, that Subway alone does such tricks.
Also, the way Subway competes did not bother me for a minute because I believe that that is what business is all about – competition. Upon analyzing Subway, I came into the conclusion that Subway lives by the maxim “the end justifies the means” and thus my belief that they are utilitarians. The cunning Subway showed in fooling their customers made me reflect about a certain philosopher I know named Niccolo Machiavelli. Surely the idea to pretend to be something you’re not if it would keep you in your position originated from Machiavelli himself. Now, these things made me think that not only politicians alone read Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. It is very evident that businessmen got some advice from the great Machiavelli.
I have made the claim that Subway is more of a utilitarian than a Kantian because of the reasons I have mentioned earlier in this paper. A Kantian would not, even for a second, put profits or benefits over the rights of an individual. Thus, I think Subway is very much a Utilitarian because it is evident in their action that they gives utmost importance to the consequences of their actions. If fooling a customer would yield better profit for them then they would not feel the slightest twinge of remorse upon fooling their customers.
Also if people or rather their customers feels safer by eating in Subway even though their show that their products are health foods are nothing but a mere façade then they should still go through it for the reason that it causes or it promotes more pleasure than pain or happiness than suffering. Since, their customers would not want to eat risky foods which would make them fat and would cause them great displeasure then the decision of Subway to fool their customers is not bad, at least for a utilitarian.
Having made this paper, I therefore conclude that Subway lives more on a code of ethics which values the consequences of an action. The said ethics is called Utilitarianism. Thus, upon conclusion, Subway lives in the maxim “the end justifies the means”.