Ethical choice of market targets

Market targeting sometimes generates public controversy. The public is concerned when marketer take unfair advantage of vulnerable groups (such as children) or disadvantaged groups (such as inner city poor people), or promote potentially harmful products. The cereal industry has been heavily criticized for marketing efforts directed toward children. Critics worry that high powered appeals presented through the mouths of lovable animated characters will overwhelm children’s defenses and lead them to want sugared cereals or poorly balanced breakfasts. Toy marketers have been similarly criticized.

McDonald’s and other chains have drawn criticism for pitching their high fat, salt laden to low income, inner city residents. Internal documents from R J Reynolds and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (marketer of the Kool brand) have revealed the extent to which these companies’ targeted black youths age 16 to 25, particularly with their menthol brands. G. Heileman Brewing drew fire when it extended its colt 45 malt liquor line with Power master, new high test malt (5.9 alcohols). Malt liquor is consumed primarily by blacks, and by targeting blacks extensively Heileman was itself targeted by federal officials, industry leaders, black activists, and the media.

Not all attempts to target children, minorities, or other special segments draw criticism. Colgate Palmolive’s Colgate Junior toothpaste has special features designed to get children to brush longer and more often. Other companies are responding to the special needs of minority segments. Black owned ICE theaters noticed that although movie going by blacks has surged, there were few inner city theaters. Starting in Chicago, ICE partnered with the black communities in which it operates theatres using local radio stations to promote films and featuring favorite food items at concession stands. Thus, the issue is not who is targeted, but rather, how and for what. Socially responsible marketing calls for targeting that serves not only the company’s interests, but also the interests of those targeted.


Cable TV station Nickelodeon was one of the first companies to capitalize on the preschool market when it launched Nick Jr. family magazine in 1999. It distributes half of the magazine’s 1 million copies to preschool free and makes no bones about the fact that it is trying to sell parents on Nickelodeon shows and licensed products. In contrast, other corporations insist that their preschool products are designed purely to meet a social need. Pizza Hut is one. Its preschool program offers each student a certificate for a personal pizza if his or her teacher spends at least 60 minutes a weak reading to the class for four consecutive weeks. In 2002, 1.6 million preschoolers in 33,800 child care facilities participated. Likewise, automaker Ford says it sends posters to 100,000 preschools, child care centers, and kindergarten classes to encourage children ages 2 to 5 to think about safety. The poster is an alphabet of safety tips with, not surprisingly, A for automobile (but no F for Ford).