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Philosophy 223
Marketing and Vulnerability
Marketing and Manipulation
 Our analysis of advertising and autonomy
suggested that directing advertising at
reflective established desires is ethically
 On the other hand, advertising aimed at
desires not so established is ethically
 Such desires would seemingly include those
grounded in fears, anxieties, and whims.
Nature and Types of Vulnerability
 Vulnerability refers to a susceptibility to harm; more
specifically it refers to factors that individuals possess
that makes them more susceptible than their fellows.
 Individuals exhibit General Vulnerability when a
physical or psychological feature they exhibit makes
them susceptible to some harm.
 Examples: the elderly, addicts.
 Individuals exhibit Consumer Vulnerability to the
extent that their ability to participate in rational
exchanges is impaired.
 Example: children.
Marketing to Vulnerability
 Marketing techniques can target general
vulnerabilities or consumer vulnerabilities.
 Clearly techniques that target consumer
vulnerabilities are illegitimate, on the grounds
of our analysis of autonomy.
 Just as clearly, many general vulnerabilities
make individuals vulnerable as consumers.
 Elderly, infirm are vulnerable to ads that play on their
anxieties. Low income people vulnerable to high
priced consumer goods.
Brenkert, “Marketing and the
 This essay defends the view that some
consumers lack “market competency”
and that such vulnerable individuals
should not be targeted by marketers
in ways that take advantage of their
Market Competency
 The knowledge that one should shop
around. Market competency includes:
 The ability to determine differences in
quality and the best price;
 Knowledge of legal rights;
 Knowledge of the products and their
 Possession of appropriate resources.
An Account of Vulnerability
 Vulnerable individuals operate with conditions or
incapacities that impede their ability as normal
market participants.
 Physical vulnerabilities
 Cognitive vulnerabilities
 These vulnerabilities are magnified when we think
about their implications.
 Less able to protect their interests
 Possess these vulnerabilities due to factors beyond their
 Often unaware of their vulnerabilities
 Vulnerabilities render them susceptible to harm
Justified Market Relations
 Morally justified market relations require that all
participants be capable of exhibiting market
 Individuals who are simply lazy should not count as
 It is not morally acceptable to market goods to
especially vulnerable people with the intention of
taking advantage of their vulnerability.
Elliot, “The Drug Pushers”
 The context of Elliot’s article is the
potential conflict between the duties of
doctors to their patients and the goals of
pharmaceutical reps (to get doctors to
prescribe their companies’ medications).
 Though not necessarily conflicting, the
different foci of these two parties can
present significant moral concerns.
Gene Carbona
 As the anecdotes of Mr. Carbona, supported
by other participants in the industry and
studies in the medical literature,
demonstrate, the persuasive efforts of drug
reps have a significant impact on drug sales.
 In and of itself, this should pose few
concerns. However, when the drugs in
question are of little benefit, or even pose
possible risks to patients, concerns are
Should we be concerned?
 Consider the following, all gleaned from
Elliot’s article:
 In 1997, the average ROI on a dollar spent on drug repping
was $10.29 (twice that on print advertising to physicians
and 7 times on print advertising to consumers).
 The pharmaceutical industries lobbying organization is the
largest in the country.
 9 out of 10 medical students have been asked or required
to attend a pharmaceutical industry sales event.
 The pharmaceutical industry provides ~90% of the annual
monies spent on continuing education for doctors.
Two General Concerns
 First, referring back to our initial considerations,
we should probably wonder about the autonomy of
doctors influenced by reps.
 Particularly in connection two the relationship between
first and second order desires.
 Secondly, there are a number of vulnerabilities to
be concerned about: patients, doctors and their
staffs, and even, as Elliot suggests at the end of his
article, the reps themselves.