One of the major and more significant change worldwide was the rise of the digital media, unlike traditional media, this is a pull model which has given consumers a new role, now people are able to decide what they want to watch, when, and even how they want to access the message or content, in this scenario consumers also become a communication channel itself, sharing the message proactively along with their feedback. Likewise, the goal of making money becomes secondary for companies, now is more relevant to build a truly relationship with consumers and digital techniques allows them to follow and measure the impact of their marketing communications, to develop strategies that better address consumers’ needs and are socially responsible, all this by having a deep understanding of consumers due to the exchange of information this new two-way communication channel can provide. All these changes led to the emergence of ethical marketing which in turn changed the way companies operate in today’s dynamic and irreversible changing economy, below the three main changes will be described and analyzed.
First, companies are now called to look beyond the persuasive model, they must think about how identity is represented in their marketing communications and must reinforce ethically responsible representations of this identity.
Nowadays, in the postmodern culture, the construction of the “self “is one of the main influencing factors in consumer buying behavior, people would like to see themselves as better persons, to be more desirable and likeable in several social contexts, and consumption has become a mean to create this identity (the extended self-concept as many know it). As Sheth, Sethia and Srinivas (2011, p.2) mention, people are now making conscious choices about what they buy according to their values which leads to a mindful consumption that reflects a sense of caring toward “self”, community and nature, many companies for instance, may be seen today using this appeal of self-construction as a vast motivator in individuals’ adoption of social or environmental trends, they rely on the “pro-environmental self-identity” -a concept presented by Van Der Werff and Keizer in 2013 (Dermody et al, 2015, p.1478)- which points out people creating a sense of self that embraces pro-environmental actions. Now, some criticism has emerged, Simmons (2008, p.300-301) for example, states that in the postmodern culture the self is decentred, postmodern consumers’ ability to switch and use consumption to construct some identity reflects their lack of commitment to any lifestyle or belief, and in fact the identity consumers want to build lacks essence, might be considered fake, and style substitute it.
Likewise, marketers have extended the self-creation phenomenon to brands, deploying brand choices as the means to build self-identity. Companies are using emotional branding, moving away from the products’ functional or utilitarian value, to shape a more powerful meaning and role to products such as differentiation and status; since these roles tend to be symbolic and emotional, they can be highly manipulative (Escalas and Bettman,2005), thus the question is: should companies, brands and marketers foster postmodern consumers’ ideal self-identity? To what extent are they responsible for identity representation in their communications? Is it ethical to rely on consumers ‘aspirations and reference groups? how can marketers create ethical representations of identity?
Based on all the ethical issues mentioned above, it is true that for companies it is no longer acceptable to associate communications solely with persuasion, rather companies must care about the welfare of those affected by their decisions, they must build ethical representations of identity in all their communications. Let’s take the ELM model as an example of how companies have been forced to consider ethical representations of identity: even if other theories such as the Ambler’s M-A-C Model, the Heath’s LIPM and the Mere Exposure approach have been used to a greater extent in recent years, the elaboration likelihood model is still the most widely accepted model of advertising, it evidences how the same variable can have different effects on attitude change in different situations. Some companies used to use anorexic body images is their marketing campaigns, promoting a sense of glamour and ideals pretty far from reality for most of the women in the world, these representations of identity in the long term caused adverse psychological effects such as low self-esteem and confidence among women, now companies conscious about how their communications affect the audience, are using the same model but changing the variables to modify attitudes; in this case female models that actually represent the majority of the women are been used, Dove for instance, launched a billboard campaign called ‘real beauty’ in which used models from different sizes and ages to promote realistic body images and encourage the audience to love the way they looked. These changes on the variables of the ELM model were used to illustrate that identities that are excluding, racist, sexist and so on, first, attempt against human status and second, harm the effort to build ethical brand images or corporate identity.