The ethics of social marketing about body-weight (#14)
Australia is a leader in health social marketing. Social marketing practitioners are motivated by a shared desire to deliver social good, but this is not a straightforward task. Increasingly, social marketing experts are debating the ethics of their practices: that is, how to determine the right thing to do, or how to be a (morally) good social marketing professional. Given this, how can we distinguish a more ethically justifiable campaign about bodyweight from a less justifiable one?
I will suggest a set of ethical considerations to inform this task. Different practitioners (and their clients) will accept or reject them differently, depending on their implicit value commitments or their knowledge of formal approaches to ethical reasoning.
A more ethical campaign might:
· Identify those with a legitimate interest, and include them in both the definition of the problem and the construction of the campaign;
· Disclose relevant interests;
· Communicate honestly, including promising only those benefits that are likely to be delivered and not over-stating risks;
· Use persuasion only in an ethically justifiable way;
· Deliver more benefit than harm, a calculus that should include potential harm to target audiences;
· Ensure benefits are distributed fairly;
· Treat people with respect, taking care regarding how they are depicted and how they are encouraged to think about themselves; and
· Avoid falsely allocating responsibility for health problems to individuals.
The most fundamental ethical issue is our vision of public health and of social marketing. I conclude that if we think of public health as political, and of social marketing as engagement of citizens in a conversation about our shared future—as advocated by some leaders in public health ethics and in social marketing—campaigns can be both effective and more ethically justifiable.