Ethical Topics in Marketing


Stefanie Beninger, IE Business School, IE University

publication date

March 01, 2020


Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (external link).

cite as

Beninger, Stefanie (2020), “Ethical Topics in Marketing,” Macromarketing Pedagogy Place, (accessed August 21, 2020), [available at].


Marketing Ethics


Individual Assignment or Group Assignment


This assignment was provided to undergraduate business students taking a course on marketing ethics. The assignment is designed to foster an understanding of ethical topics in marketing, while also encouraging the ability to think critically, analyze, and further develop persuasive communication techniques. Such an approach provides students with a macro perspective of the impacts of business on society from contemporary business issues including wider perspectives of varying stakeholders.

Rationale for this project

The general idea is that students are assigned debate topics that they need to research as either the pro or a con team. The debate topics are part of classroom sessions involving assigned readings, case, and/or in-class discussions.

Classroom example

Students participate in a debate. Debate topics are chosen or assigned and students are put into either the ‘pro’ or a ‘con’ team of the debate topic. Each team has 3 to 4 students, depending on the class size, and students need to liaison with their teammates in order to have coordinated arguments that are based on, at least in part, ethical decision-making ideas and models.

Each student has 4-5 minutes to present a portion of their argument in-class. This is followed by a 2-3 minute question and answer session which can involve questions from the opposing team, the audience, and the professor. As part of this assignment, students are each required to submit one single page outlining their portion of the argument.


The following variations can be used for this project:

  1. Presentation speech length can be shortened depending on course length.

  2. Students can be required to take part in 1 or 2 debates a semester, again depending on course structure.

  3. Students could also be encouraged to go beyond just giving speeches, towards conveying their stance in other ways, if deemed appropriate (e.g., videos).

  4. Grades can be given individually or as a group, or mixed.

Below are some sample debate topics that have been used in the classroom, as well as potential supporting content, such as related cases and foundational literature. This supporting content can be assigned to all students to be discussed in-class in addition to the debates or to just the debate teams to further their thinking.

Topic list for this project.

Debate topic

Suggested content

“Companies should [not] use any and all cultural elements in their marketing promotions as they see fit.”

Beninger, Stefanie and June N.P. Francis (2015)

“Marketers should [not] be held responsible if people use their products in an unintended way.”

Berthon, Pierre R., Leyland F. Pitt, Ian McCarthy, and Steven M. Kates

“Marketers are [not] responsible for their customer’s disposal of the products at the end of their lifecycle.”

Khetriwal, Deepali Sinha, Philipp Kraeuchi, and Rolf Widmer

“Stealth/guerilla marketing in public spaces should [not] be allowed with no restrictions.”

Kaikati, Andrew M. and Jack G. Kaikati

These topics are just suggestions and debate topics can be updated to reflect new and emerging topics of interest.

Feedback from students

Students seem to quite enjoy the process of tackling a variety of novel marketing topics through debate, including researching and analysing differing perspectives.

The author used this approach with fourth year undergraduates at Canadian university, where the students gave one such course, for example, an overall score of 3.9 (out of 4; ranked #6 in the faculty that semester) and they said that they enjoyed the “relevant” and “interesting issues presented” with “very valuable discussion during class”.


  1. Stefanie Beninger and June N.P. Francis. Paul frank and native american stereotypes: a case of misappropriation. Technical Report, Ivey Cases, 2015. URL:

  2. Pierre R. Berthon, Leyland F. Pitt, Ian McCarthy, and Steven M. Kates. When customers get clever: managerial approaches to dealing with creative consumers. Business Horizons, 50(1):39–47, 2007.

  3. Andrew M. Kaikati and Jack G. Kaikati. Stealth marketing: how to reach consumers surreptitiously. California Management Review, 46(4):6–22, 2004.

  4. Deepali Sinha Khetriwal, Philipp Kraeuchi, and Rolf Widmer. Producer responsibility for e-waste management: key issues for consideration–learning from the swiss experience. Journal of Environmental Management, 90(1):153–165, 2009.