#PandemicAndBeyond - Dilemma 6: a healthy concern

14 October 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond

In the final dilemma of our Pandemic and Beyond series, we consider the ethical implications of digital marketing techniques aimed at younger, impressionable audiences.

Chloe, the Head of Marketing at BestSupplements, a nutrient and vitamin supplements company, begins the weekly team meeting with a warning. “I’ve had a call from head office. We need to step up the marketing – do something really inspiring, something different. Sales haven’t been great and we need to be creative … or our jobs are on the line.”

Pete, who has recently read about other companies' successful collaborations with Instagram 'influencers' for marketing purposes, has an idea. “We recruit existing teen and young adult customers with a big social media following for their bodybuilding and fitness accounts and ask them to act as BestSupplements ambassadors for our new supplement. Their job is to post on Instagram describing how our products helped them achieve their fitness goals and telling all their followers how great our products are. We could give them stock to give away in competitions and let their followers have 10% discount codes”.

Chloe and the rest of the team are immediately keen on Pete's idea. Only Simon is less comfortable with it. He's acutely aware, having discussed the topic with his own teenage daughters, of the excessive pressure on young people over their image. He's not sure he likes the idea of paying famous influencers who are in the gym 7 days a week to claim that they couldn't have achieved their appearance and fitness without BestSupplements' products, in order to appeal to a young, impressionable audience. 

“I’m not too sure about this, guys” he says to his colleagues. “I’m worried that targeting such a vulnerable age group would be wrong, especially considering everything they have already had to go through during lockdown. And also, I thought that this new supplement was only suitable for adults…”

“Oh, come on Simon! We are not selling it to children, are we? Try to be positive! Pete might have just saved our jobs. Surely losing your job won’t help your daughters either!” says Chloe. 

BestSupplements certainly wouldn't be the first company to market a product using this method. However, Simon knows first-hand how stressful the pandemic has been for his daughters; missing out on normal teaching, unable to see their boyfriends that live separately, and deeply worried about their job prospects in a faltering economy. He is really worried about the mental health implications of the pandemic and doesn't want to add to young people's burden by contributing to the idea that you need to buy this product to help you live up to a particular standard of appearance and fitness. He worries that by allowing ambassadors to advertise on behalf of the company, BestSupplements loses control of the precise message they send out.

What should Simon do now?

(a) Raise this with someone else outside his team – possibly Chloe’s boss. 
(b) Try to compromise; say he would be much happier if the deal with the influencers contained a clause that let BestSupplements have total control of the imagery and language they use to promote the product. 
(c) Stay quiet. After all, Chloe did say their jobs could be on the line. Best not to speak up and put yourself in the firing line.