A Review of Ethical and Social Marketing in Asia

The Importance of Fairness Management


Few studies have explored the relationship between the three topics of ethical marketing, social marketing and fairness management conjointly, and even less, have attempted to link these in a comprehensive review across 14 diverse economies in Asia.

This article reviews key issues pertaining to ethical, marketing, social marketing and fairness management in the regions and economies across Asia. The study of ethical and social marketing incorporating fairness management in Asia is a timely topic for further investigation due to the sheer diversity of Asia, which provides a difficult environment for the development and management of ethical and social marketing and fairness management.

A framework is presented with the managerial implications and reflections are made on these topical themes in this Asian region with suggestions for academics and practitioners working in marketing and management.

There is a growing interest in ethical and social marketing adoption by companies among academics and practitioners alike.

Ethical marketing is the application of ethics to the marketing process.

Social marketing seeks to influence a target audience, not just for the organisations’ or marketers’ benefit, but for the greater social good, such as the general society.


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However, the study of ethical and social marketing topics in Asia and their links to fairness management is limited. Fairness is the quality of being honest and just, and is associated with morality, impartiality and uprightness.

Fairness management is concerned with the managing of justice and morality, thus may be considered as an important element to ethical and social marketing. Surprisingly, few studies have explored the relationship between these three topics conjointly (Arnold, 2009; French et al., 2011; Gilliland et al., 2005), and even less, have attempted to link the three topics of ethical marketing, social marketing and fairness management in a comprehensive review across 14 diverse economies in Asia.

The sheer diversity of Asian countries provides a perplexing environment for the development and management of ethical and social marketing. Varying cultures, economic development stages, resources, politics and consumption behaviours all require correspondingly varied emphasis in different markets.

For example, while some parts of Asia are often known for copyright infringements, labour exploitation, environmental pollution and other unethical business practices, other parts are known for fair trade, consumer welfare and strict government regulation to mitigate unethical issues.

The belief that bottom-line profit is enough for a company is often not favourably viewed by Asian countries emphasising collective, social and long-term benefits for the people and country. Indeed, in many ways, social marketing should be particularly well received by Asian firms and consumers because of its emphasis on the greater societal good, which is often promoted by countries.

Due to these interesting characteristics and inherent complexities, we view the study of ethical and social marketing and fairness management in Asia to be timely topics for further investigation. This article addresses the following three areas:

  1. Ethics: We provide insights into research on ethical marketing issues in Asia in order to compare, contrast and comprehend how firms organise and manage ethics in different parts of Asia;
  2. Social: We highlight differing perspectives of social marketing in Asia and its effects on consumption behaviour. Differing management approaches are presented that, once applied to their organisation, could increase the likelihood of successful implementation of social marketing, as well as being of relevance for managing more generally;
  3. Fairness: We include fairness in the ethical and social marketing processes, exploring fairness from extant consumer behavioural and psychological theories and research. The role of fairness and subsequent application towards both managing their own marketing approaches and managing more broadly.

Specifically, we ask the question: ‘How are marketers making (or how should they make) ethical decisions across Asian countries?’ As it would have been difficult to cover all Asian countries with the limited resources and space available, we selected a mixture of developing and developed economies with varied social, economic and political backgrounds, context and histories of colonialism and wars, communism and capitalism. Table 1 summarises key definitions of ethical marketing, social marketing and fairness management.

Table 1 Definitions of ethical marketing, social marketing and fairness management
Authors : Definition(Hunt and Vitell, 1986: 4) : Ethical marketing can be defined as ‘an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral judgments, standards, and rules of conduct relating to marketing decisions and marketing situations’(Nguyen et al., 2015) : Defines ethical marketing as ‘the application of marketing ethics into the marketing process, referring to the philosophical examination, from a moral standpoint, of particular marketing issues that are matters of moral judgment and may result in a more socially responsible and culturally sensitive business community’(Radhakrishnan, 1914: 168) : ‘The vedanta law of morality does not ask us to act without motives, but asks us to serve humanity, without any selfish desires or petty interests, without envy or jealousy, regardless of party or personality… An action is good, not because of its external consequences, but on account of its inner will. Virtue is a mode of being and not of doing’

(Preston, 1996: 16) : ‘Ethics is concerned with what is right, fair, just or good; about what we ought to do, not just what is the case or what is most acceptable or expedient’

(AMA, 2007) : Social marketing defined as ‘seeking to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviour that benefits individuals and communities for the greater social good’

(Kotler and Zaltman, 1971: 5) : ‘The design, implementation and control of programs calculated to influence the acceptability of social ideas and involving considerations of product planning, pricing, communication, distribution, and marketing research’

(Mutum et al., 2015) : Social marketing – using marketing theories, tools and techniques to address social issues

(Kotler, 2013; Spotswood et al., 2012; Wood, 2012) : Social marketing is a complex enterprise that often aims to rectify the perceived wrongs of global society by creating positive social change

(Martin and Murray, 1983) : Fairness judgments are based on a comparison process, whereby the outcomes of the judge are contrasted with the outcomes received by a comparative referent

(Bolton et al., 2003: 474) : Fairness is defined as ‘a judgment of whether an outcome and/or the process to reach an outcome are reasonable, acceptable, or just’

(AMA, 2014) : Fairness ‘emphasises marketers’ responsibility toward all stakeholders e.g. customers, employees, investors, channel members, regulators, and the community, highlighting that their actions and decisions should be of value to all’

(Xia et al., 2004) : Different cultures influence perceived fairness in different ways: (1) through comparisons of own interaction with another person’s, or comparing current with previous interactions; (2) the attributions (or blame) for an unfair purchase situation; and (3) general social norms and beliefs.

The rest of the paper is structured as follows. First, we follow the same sequence of regions and economies across Asia in each of our three theme-based parts and review key issues pertaining to ethical, marketing, social marketing and fairness management. This is followed by a presentation of the managerial implications arising from these issues. Finally, we conclude with final reflections on these topical themes in this Asian region.

Reviewing Ethical Marketing, Social Marketing and Fairness Management in Asia

First, we explore ethical marketing issues in Asia. Starting with the cluster of China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, we discuss key elements and antecedents of ethical marketing decision-making by comparing ethical marketing issues and facts.

Hunt and Vitell (1986: 4) define ethical marketing as ‘an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral judgments, standards, and rules of conduct relating to marketing decisions and marketing situations’.

It is suggested that ethical marketing is the extension of marketing knowledge, techniques and concepts into influencing the acceptability of ethical ideas. According to Murphy et al. (2005), ethical marketing focuses on transparent, trustworthy and responsible personal and organisational marketing policies and activities that indicate integrity as well as fairness to consumers and other stakeholders.

To set the initial impression of differences between the countries, it is noted that contemporary studies on marketing ethics differ with respect to emphasis on the role of individual differences, cultural values and ethical climates in forming ethical decision-makers’ reasoning and subsequent decisions. However, current understanding of the multi-country dynamics underlying marketing ethics is limited.

Furthermore, while research suggests that business ethics practices are relatively similar between these countries, since they are heavily influenced by Confucian ethics (Ardichvili et al., 2009), there is evidence to show that each country developed a unique subset of Confucianism, and so ethical marketing practices in these nations are not all the same (Chung et al., 2008).

Ethical Marketing in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea

In China, to a large extent, the discipline of Chinese marketing today does not address ethical issues arising out of the transition from a planned economy towards a more market economy. Marketing ethics issues increasingly arise from this.

However, marketing scandals have put China at the forefront of growing concern, not only about its products, but also relating to its marketing decision-making ethics. For the Chinese, Confucianism has a preference for management by ethics rather than by law (Ramasamy et al., 2013). One of the central virtues of Confucianism is ren (human).

Ren is often described as incorporating the case and concern for consumers, and for society as a whole. Abiding by these principles encourages managers to behave more ethically. Despite the positive effect of Chinese traditional culture on management ethical decision-making, the literature also suggests that certain cultural values may lead to negative ethical beliefs among organisations. In particular, business and political corruption are by no means uncommon in China.

In Taiwan, the government established a consumer protection mechanism specifically to improve the quality of products and maintain a fair consumption environment (Consumer Protection Committee, Executive Yuan, 2011). Furthermore, it has engaged in various aspects of consumer education practices, leading to an increased level of consumer consciousness and self-awareness among consumers.

In addition, the mechanism also involves an effective dispute-handling system. When consumer disputes arise, consumers can quickly and accurately obtain appropriate compensation (Consumer Protection Committee, Executive Yuan, 2011). Nowadays, more Taiwanese companies are turning their attention towards environmental sustainability. As a result, ‘green marketing’ has become a more common feature of advertising messages, using phrases such as ‘environment friendly’, ‘green’, ‘eco’ and ‘sustainability’.

Although the government discourages so-called ‘greenwash’ activities (where companies claim unsubstantiated environmental functionality of products), these are still popular in the market. Consumers have learned about the drawbacks of greenwash and they perceive that the environmental claims of green products are neither true nor transparent (Chen and Chang, 2013). Consequently, consumer confusion and perceived risk are found to be a barrier to green marketing product consumption in the marketplace.

In Japan, Japanese managers consider unethical practices relating to marketing activities as the most unacceptable. Choi and Nakano’s (2008) research found that the top three unethical practices that Japanese managers would most like to eliminate were price collusion, price discrimination, and giving of gifts, gratuities and bribes. Furthermore, several empirical studies suggest that company policy is the primary factor influencing managers’ ethical decisions in Japan.

For example, Nakano (1997) found that among the factors influencing Japanese managers’ ethical or unethical decisions, company policy is one of the most important. This study also reveals that Japanese managers tend to choose what is in the interest of the company over their own ethical beliefs when these conflict with each other.

In South Korea, advertising to children has been the subject of considerable concern for the public. For example, it is argued that TV food advertisements have had a noticeable impact on the incidence of obesity. Childhood obesity rates have been doubling every year since 1998 and in 2008 reached 13.7 per cent for boys and 7.5 per cent for girls (Moon, 2013). Several studies on TV food advertising showed that such advertisements aired during children’s prime-time viewing hours are dominated by energy-dense and nutrient-poor (EDNP) foods, thus leading to increased consumption of such foods (Kim, 2012).

In recent years, public demand for regulations targeting food advertisements has increased dramatically. Therefore, the Special Act finally went into effect in 2010, restricting marketing activities for food products containing high levels of fat, sugar, salt and calories. This Act targets 4–18-year-olds and it restricted TV advertising of EDNP foods between 5pm and 7pm.

Ethical Marketing in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand

In a recent paper, Nguyen et al. (2015) use and develop a country-branding framework by adding an ethical dimension to the application and analyses. With this ethical dimension permeating other aspects of country branding and a strong focus on ethics itself, countries are said to reinforce the positive values of the country’s brand, creating a strong citizen brand. The challenges are many, the most prevalent being to ensure that the development of products can add long-term benefits without reducing the products’ desirable qualities. Media attention on ethics has resulted in many top brands suffering from consumer boycotts and research shows that consumers are less trusting of ethical claims in advertisements. Therefore, country-branding focusing on ethics may also require care. Again, the countries vary.

In Singapore, the key to success lies in the emphasis on human capital dimensions (Szondi, 2006). This is the economy’s most competitive asset and Singapore has consequently attracted well-developed and highly qualified workers, giving the country a competitive edge (Wanjiru, 2005). These human capital qualities also influence visitors (Idris and Arai, 2006) by making a lasting impression (Wanjiru, 2005) and contributing to a country brand’s performance in global markets. To win over the public, it is suggested that Singapore needs to continue its focus on businesses and investment, but also highlight more of their good causes and global ethical and social responsibility issues, which are beneficial for investors and citizens alike.

In Malaysia, emphasis should be on human capital dimensions due to the country’s diversified and multicultural population. To this end, Malaysia could incorporate and differentiate itself among its competitors by highlighting the country’s openness towards different religious and moral beliefs, thus creating associations with increased ethical concerns and trust in their human capital and other areas. To win over the public, it is suggested that Malaysia needs to be more involved with good causes and global issues. Social and ethical factors are key elements in a country’s competitive advantage, and Malaysia should mainly brand internally towards its own citizens.

In Thailand, places like Bangkok city centre and beach resort holidays are world-class holiday destinations. However, frequent natural disasters, such as flooding and tsunamis, risk reducing tourism and inward investment, diminishing competitiveness (Wanjiru, 2005), as do political and civil tension, conflicts and unrest. The country has vast raw material resources, such as rice production, in which they enjoy core competencies that others cannot replicate (Gilmore, 2002). To win over the public, it is suggested that Thailand must expand their ethical management to areas that involve human capital, to overcome images of stereotyping. In addition, it is vital that ethics are strongly embedded in all aspects of their country-branding, namely their politics and government.

Ethical Marketing in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Contemporary issues in ethical marketing in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are important to highlight. Ethical marketing here has to be examined and understood in the specific context (population, poverty, literacy, income inequality, etc.) of these countries. All are perceived as high on corruption scales, with India having a slightly better rank (the lower the rank, less corrupt the country) of 94 (out of 180 countries), and Pakistan and Bangladesh are at 127 and 136, respectively. Corruption scandals are rife; corruption, unemployment and development have dominated elections. The growth of certain new political parties, like the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in India and Tahree-e-Insaaf in Pakistan, is mainly attributed to the increasing concerns of citizens about corruption and the inability of traditional political parties to deal with it. Whatever may be the reasons for corruption, it affects the ethical behaviour of all the stakeholders involved in a transaction. It also deeply impacts on ethical marketing.

Ethical Marketing in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia

In Vietnam, marketers still lack active professional associations enforcing strict codes of ethics. As of 2013, Vietnam ranked 112 of 182 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, well behind countries like Thailand and China. The Government Inspectorate of Vietnam in 2013 detected 45 corruption cases involving 99 people and 354 billion Vietnamese dong ($16.7 million) embezzled (Global Times, 2014).

The Government Inspectorate found that corruption and waste occurred mainly in the areas of land use, credit, banking, asset management and capital, causing huge economic losses and public discontent. The presence of such unethical practices is damaging Vietnam’s reputation as a place for conducting business. From a marketing perspective, support from both the government and international community may assist Vietnamese businesses, and in particular, marketers to improve their procedures, outcomes and (not least) their virtue and morality.

Awareness and training are needed, however, on many levels. Ethics by virtue and character are also warranted in order to further improve the reputation of Vietnam. With time and proper institutional frameworks, marketers in Vietnam may join various associations and adhere to their code of ethics. In this way, companies and customers alike will be better off.

In Cambodia, there is little written on the topic of ethical marketing. However, there is evidence that it is practised to a great extent. According to StartSomeGood.com, a crowd-funding platform for non-profit organisations and social entrepreneurs, campaigns using ethical marketing approaches are in evidence.

For example, a project by the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT), proposes to teach children not what to think, but how to think. The focus in the CCT’s approach involves studying ethics and philosophy at an early age, as they believe that such knowledge will give children the necessary skills to use good thinking as a guide by which to live. For marketers, early education in ethics, fairness and morality may foster greater awareness and improved ethical marketing skills. The future of Cambodia depends on it.

In the Philippines, business ethics are greatly influenced by geographic fragmentation, plurality of languages and ethnicities, and the predominant Roman Catholic religion, together with the still relatively short experience of nationhood.

Among the countries in this cluster, the Philippines is probably the most advanced in terms of different professional bodies related to codes of ethics, including the marketing society MORES (Marketing and Opinion Research Society). Such a code of ethics provides integrity and trust to the marketing profession, which is an excellent starting point to improve the reputation of marketing. However, problems are also apparent.

Recently, Philippines-based pharmaceutical companies have been urged by a coalition of health professionals and health advocates to follow a voluntary international code of business ethics in the bio-pharmaceutical industry that seeks to ensure the best interest of patients. Overall, it seems that the Philippines is on the right track towards marketing ethics, and its influences are fruitful for their international reputation as a place to conduct business and for foreign investors, tourists and other stakeholders.

In Indonesia, issues with corruption and other unethical concerns are highlighted. In the wake of revelations, many government officials were found to have suspiciously large bank accounts, for suggesting that ethics had not taken hold among public servants. Many call for the development of a code of ethics to prevent corruption, and note how important codes of ethics and standards for behaviour are as instruments for enforcing discipline in state institutions. Marketers are not exempt from this either.

Social Marketing in Asia

The second part of our review covers differing perspectives of social marketing in Asia. We first present key analyses leading thinking on social marketing in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Social marketing is seen as ‘seeking to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviour that benefits individuals and communities for the greater social good’ (International Social Marketing Association, 2013:1).

This article expands this definition by examining how cultural factors influence social marketing practice and research, using the Framework for Cross-cultural Social Marketing Research (Dahl, 2009). This framework introduces a number of different points to consider and, therefore, contextualises social marketing interventions in the wider cultural and social context in which they occur, providing an important perspective.

In developed and Western countries, much emphasis is placed on issues such as energy consumption, safer driving, anti-smoking, and prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, while in developing countries, much of the social marketing focus centres on basic health issues, such as sanitation, family planning, and maternal and child health (Saini and Mukul, 2012).

The countries here are a mixture of developing and developed countries, as per the IMF classification (International Monetary Fund, 2012). Taiwan, South Korea and Japan are classified as highly developed countries with advanced economies, while China is categorised as a developing country. Despite the controversial nature of such a classification system, it may nevertheless give some insights into the likely impact of using the framework classification of economic contexts on issues likely to arise in the different countries.

In China, wide-ranging reform plans were launched in 2009 with the aim of achieving universal health coverage by 2020. However, despite this progress, wide inequalities remain, including a health care system that has been described as ‘hindered by waste, inefficiencies, poor quality of services, and scarcity and maldistribution of the qualified workforce’ (Yip, 2012: 833).

Social issues, such as urban migration on a massive scale, have resulted in significant problems related to environmental quality, including air and water pollution in urban centres. Furthermore, increases in road traffic and vehicle ownership have increased road-safety issues in urban and rural areas, which are both pressing and potentially addressable by social marketing interventions. In South Korea, sustainable behaviours, such as purchasing of organic food, responsible use of transportation and donating to charity, have been found to be significantly more common than in the USA and Germany. In Japan, the increase in obesity rates has not mirrored those of China.

The concept of social marketing can be considered as a means to change voluntary behaviour in individuals and to influence policy. Covering Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, we explore the formal definition of social marketing as: to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches, to influence behaviour that benefits individuals and communities for the greater social good, and explains how this definition is adopted in practice by social marketers today. Examples from the three diversified countries are used to demonstrate how social marketing is being implemented in practice.

For example, research findings from Singapore found obesity was not caused by a lack of knowledge among individuals. Research indicates that 66 percent of Singaporeans would like to lose weight and 62 percent acknowledged the importance of regular exercise. Yet knowing that one should eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly is not the same as actually doing it. Many individuals who vowed to lose weight found it challenging to modify their lifestyles.

In Malaysia, a study by Sajahan et al. (2012) evaluated the Anti Drug Campaign carried out by the National Drug Agency. Results of the survey indicated that only 2.5 percent of respondents were not aware of the campaign and 25.5 percent also agreed that the anti-drug campaign helped them to turn away from drugs.

The study concluded that while anti-drug campaigns obtained a positive response from the community, campaigns alone did not change drug-taking behaviour. Insights from the evaluation would be useful to develop campaigns further to ensure that drug-taking behaviour is minimised.

In Thailand, Population Development Associates (PDA) is a private organisation that markets a range of products and services through community development centres. A water tank project run by PDA builds water tanks in villages to help improve the quality of life for villagers. It was not designed to provide revenue, although it covers some overheads for PDA (Andreasen, 1988). Many commercial marketing concepts do not translate easily to social marketing, and these are areas being examined by social marketing researchers.

Looking at social marketing in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, issues are explored with special reference to contraceptive social marketing programmes. In India, despite impressive economic growth and wealth creation, there are huge disparities in human development.

Some 37 percent of India’s population (about 410 million people) fall below the poverty line, which translates to roughly one-third of the world’s poor (World Bank, 2014a). Other social challenges facing the country include gender inequality (UNDP, 2014).

Among all the challenges faced, unsustainable population growth remains one of the biggest areas of concern. It affects and is related to a number of other social issues. Soon after its independence in 1947, the government recognised the country’s ‘population problem’, which then was seen as an impediment to development. Consequently, the government launched a family planning programme supported by various international organisations.

In fact, social marketing was first introduced in India in the 1960s to tackle this problem. However, experts are divided about the success rates of social marketing campaigns targeted at tackling this problem. Thus more focus is needed on contraception and family planning in social marketing programmes, by looking at the history and then examining some of the major issues and challenges faced by various social marketing campaigns.

In Pakistan, human development has also become a critical concern for sustainable economic growth, especially in the light of the high mortality rates of infants and under-5s. Of interest, perhaps, for the current discussion, is that the country is currently ranked as one of the lowest spenders on education and health in the region (at about 2 percent of GDP) (World Bank, 2014b. However, Pakistan has made impressive reductions in its poverty rate; this currently stands at an estimated 17.2 percent in 2007–8 as compared to around 34.5 percent in 2001–2.

Bangladesh has been more successful in improving the social conditions compared to its two neighbours. A lot of the credit can be attributed to running social marketing campaigns effectively. Schellstefe and Ciszewski (1984) analysed the success of the Social Marketing Project, which was managed by Population Services International. This contraceptive and family planning programme was launched on a national scale in 1975.

In the context of Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, we now give an overview of the current state of play of social marketing practice and theory. The key cases include health and sanitation programmes in Vietnam and Indonesia, oral health in the Philippines, road safety campaigns in Cambodia and Vietnam, and reproductive health campaigns throughout the region. The ‘Behavioural Ecological Model’ (Hovell et al., 2002), consisting of four levels (social/cultural, community, local, individual), is adopted and applied.

In Vietnam, the case study examines where UNICEF has been working on providing equitable education and health care to the children of ethnic minority groups. They have done this through providing bilingual programmes and free immunisation. Another campaign is that of promoting breastfeeding for new mothers by working, with Vietnam’s National Assembly on legislative frameworks that enable women to work and continue to breastfeed.

In Cambodia, the organisation ‘17 Triggers’ created a viral campaign to raise awareness about orphanage tourism and protection of children’s right to privacy and from possible sexual abuse. The organisation provided information on its web page, prompting the online global community to share the message. In another case, by taking into account the significance of Buddhism as the national religion, UNICEF sought cooperation with numerous pagodas throughout Cambodia to form a health support programme through building a sense of community.

In Indonesia, the International Labour Office and its office in Jakarta launched a social marketing campaign with an educational angle to promote responsible workplace practice. They targeted both workers’ rights and sustainable economic development. In another campaign, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded DKT Indonesia to establish clinics for Indonesian midwives, in order to improve capacity to insert and remove intrauterine devices safely, and to create an environment whereby women gain increased access to family planning.

In the Philippines, disaster resilience is a critical issue, especially in coastal areas. When the country was severely devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the United Nations vowed to provide assistance, especially for children, by supporting back-to-learning efforts, developing a child protection system, rebuilding water systems for sanitation, supplying safe vaccines for prevention of diseases and providing services to children threatened by malnutrition.

In a different social marketing campaign, the government took a leading role in initiating and supporting numerous health programmes, including one that cut across all ages by improving oral health in the country for children, adolescents, pregnant women and elderly people, with a mixture of oral service provision, product provision, health education and development of relevant policies and protocols.

Exploring Fairness

The third part of our review covers studies exploring fairness in extant consumer behavioural and psychological theories and research. Important aspects of cultural and social indicators influencing consumers’ fairness perceptions in the Asian context are included. This enables readers to understand the role of fairness and its subsequent application in managing their marketing approaches and beyond, into areas of general management.

Fairness Management in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea

In China, consumers are known to be more sensitive to ‘in-group’ versus ‘out-group’ differences than American consumers because of concerns for ‘face’, that is, status earned in a social network (Bolton et al., 2010). This is where in-group versus out-group memberships may play a role, especially in Asian countries with strong membership ties from various life-stage-related organisations (e.g. hometowns, schools, clubs, companies, etc.).

Comparison within the relevant reference groups (in-groups) becomes more important and significant in determining fairness perceptions in countries with high collectivistic tendencies. In China and Taiwan, guanxi denotes the informal, socio-emotional and obligational nature of the relationship imposed on all involved parties within any business contexts. It is more than give and take. It emphasises social obligations that each participant must execute in a tight-knit in-group, in order for the group’s success against other out-groups. Inherently implied in this concept is the notion of individual sacrifice for the greater good of the in-group.

In Taiwan, unequal pay among same-level co-workers is acceptable in business settings, but equal payoffs are expected in personal settings (Loewenstein et al., 1989). This reasoning supports how Hong Kong and Taiwan differ. Although they are both of Chinese culture, the overriding goal of society in Hong Kong has always been more economic, thus changing the fairness perceptions and resulting quality-of-life perceptions (Liao et al., 2005). Deutsch (1975) argued that the collective goal of a group or society influenced the selection of a dominant fairness principle. When economic productivity is a primary goal, equity will be the dominant principle; when fostering or maintenance of enjoyable social relations is the primary emphasis, equality is the typically selected principle.

In Japan, when the other party is perceived as powerless, many feel that it is inappropriate to take advantage of the powerless party – hence, they divide according to the equality principle. It is considered fair that the party with greater power earns a smaller portion of the surplus, sharing more with the weaker partner.

This contrasts with the USA, where it is believed that it is fair for the party with greater power to take a larger share of the surplus (Buchan et al., 2004). Interestingly, the Japanese who strongly believe in a ‘just world’ display larger self-serving bias than those who weakly believe in it (Tanaka, 1999). Like guanxi, there is the importance of giri and con in networks and relationships (Rowley and Harry, 2011).

In South Korea, equality rather than equity may be preferred. Support is found from studies investigating consumer reactions to variable pricing or price increases. In one study involving hotel pricing tactics, Korean consumers perceived the variable-pricing practices as less fair than American consumers did (Choi and Mattila, 1993). If using the equity principle, considerations should be given to defining what constitutes a valid input. For example, Koreans are more sensitive to differences in seniority, education and family size in determining fairness of pay, whereas Americans are more sensitive to variations in individual job performance and work effort (Hundley and Kim, 1997). In terms of networks and relationships, like guanxi, there is the importance of inmaek (Rowley and Harry, 2011).

Fairness Management in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand

There are important implications here for these countries.

In Singapore, cases of unfairness, discrimination and public outcry are often found in several areas, such as nepotism, school admission for the wealthy, fast-track promotions, preferential hiring according to nationality, etc. While these issues are not entirely unique to Singapore, they tend to be more prevalent in a country that greatly supports meritocracy (Singapore Armchair Critic, 2013).

Influential bloggers such as the Singapore Armchair Critic (SAC) have published numerous articles on the topic, observing how meritocracy has caused great unfairness among its citizens. For example, American regulators recently opened a probe on the hiring practice of JPMorgan Chase in China. The ongoing investigation has sought to establish if the bank’s recruitment practices have been favourable towards the offspring of high-ranking and influential Chinese officials (‘princelings’) as a quid pro quo for coveted business deals. Such practices are prohibited under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (SAC, 2013). One case involves the son of a former banking regulator and the other the daughter of a now-disgraced railway official. This has led to speculation about similar practices in Singapore.

In Malaysia, Amin (2013) notes that in their everyday lives, consumers enter into various types of contracts for the supply of goods or services. However, in most cases, these contracts contain terms that are more favourable to traders and unfair to consumers. Unfair terms typically occur in the form of exemption clauses, which are seen or printed on receipts, invoices and other sale documents. These standard form contracts are often designed by traders, thus they are commonly created out of self-interest, and are therefore biased and lead to unfair terms for consumers. These terms may be extremely harsh against consumers, restricting their rights or denying them all together.

In Thailand, examples of price discrimination between local residents and foreigners are not uncommon. As noted by Daoruang (2014), a ‘Dual Price System’ operates, in which shopkeepers trick foreign tourists into paying more. Thailand has its own numbering system, which is unique to the Thai language. When tourists shop, they will often see the price written using Arabic numbers.

While this is convenient for tourists, especially at some attractions, many do not know that there is a two-tier system by which they charge foreign visitors more than local people. Daoruang (2014: 1) comments: “Usually the entrance fee is always written using Arabic numbers. If you spot the prices written in Thai numbers and Arabic numbers then for sure there are two prices. I think they do it this way because they are ashamed to let you know they are charging you double. I can’t think of any other reason to hide the prices like this.

Fairness Management in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

With issues relating to brand fairness management in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is noted that the marketing landscape today is dominated by suspicion and distrust as a result of practices that include hidden fees, deception, manipulation and information mishandling. In such a pessimistic situation, marketers are re-conceptualising the notion of brand fairness in marketing and customer management, so that progress and advancement in marketing can flourish, avoiding further control and imposed regulation.

In India, the study of ‘conscious capitalism’ is drawn from Roy and Modi’s (2014) concept of ‘enlightened market orientation’ in response to extensive criticism of marketing.

Conscious capitalism has two key elements:

(i) companies should articulate a higher purpose that transcends profit maximisation; and

(ii) they should be managed for the benefit of all stakeholders in their ‘ecosystem’, not just shareholders.

It is important to discuss the rise of conscious capitalism (Aburdene, 2005; Mackey, 2007), which reflects people’s higher levels of consciousness about themselves and the world around them. In India, this is due to natural evolution and the rapid aging of society, which has resulted in a higher proportion of people in mid-life and beyond. As consciousness is raised, people place great demands for transparency on companies, using the internet to accelerate this trend.

In Pakistan, tactical concerns towards brand fairness are covered and guidelines suggested for managers to consider – to ask what should be done to avoid the potential for such unfairness effect and to be perceived as a fairer and more trustworthy organisation in customers’ minds. These guidelines are presented along with the Pakistan context. These dimensions include: awareness and problem diagnosis; managing both targeted and non-targeted customers; and emphasis on positive associations and goodwill.

In Bangladesh, the focus is on the educational sector and the education of marketing, emphasising morality in marketing. We note that re-education in fairer ways for marketing and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) managers must be implemented early on.

Fairness issues should be taught in books and classes early on, in order to achieve the true concept of relationship building and to obtain quality relationships between the involved parties (Zeithaml et al., 1996). Students must learn what the determinants of a good relationship are (Britton and Rose, 2004). The idea is not to eliminate these technologically advanced CRM applications, philosophies and approaches, but rather to find the causes of misbehaviour and work against them. If managers do not understand where unfairness in CRM comes from, it will continue to grow. This is why it is imperative to find and understand the causes, and counteract them. This message is more relevant in today’s environment than ever.

Fairness Management in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia

Finally, we explore fairness from extant consumer behavioural and psychological theories and research applied to Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The analyses of the fairness concept as part of customer relationship management (CRM) suggest that to achieve successful CRM implementation and long-lasting relationships, it is important to highlight four fundamental factors pertaining to a strong relationship:

  • trust;
  • satisfaction;
  • symmetry and dependence; and
  • fairness.

In Vietnam, many local companies can offer goods that are the same quality as foreign products, but general belief and social norms hold that the local companies’ products are inferior. So, if the local company sets their prices at the same level as their foreign counterparts, consumers may believe that the local company is cheating their customers with sub-standard products and services, or overly inflated prices.

Many consumers will find this unfair and not buy their goods. In another case, near the capital Hanoi, thousands of police overwhelmed villagers who were trying to protect a 70-hectare (170 acre) plot of land, slated for use in a satellite city development (Win, 2012). The examples of conflicts over land are a major source of friction between the public and officials, where rising land prices have led officials to move farmers off their land for more lucrative projects, often with little compensation.

In Cambodia, the actor Minnie Driver highlighted issues of exploitation and unfairness, by urging multinational companies to change their buying practices so poor workers could have better lives. She took the opportunity to say that she visited Cambodia not as a global economist or an expert on Cambodia, but as a Western consumer.

She further made a passionate plea to the heads of large corporations to consider their buying and outsourcing practices. In particular, she emphasised how every time corporations squeeze their employees to get lower production costs or faster production, the working women and their families back home suffer from such unfair treatment.

In the Philippines, there were strong reactions towards a pension provider when consumers felt unfairly treated. The case quickly spread across the internet, gathering the support of many other consumers, who together spread their complaints and negative word of mouth via social media and the Philippine Star, a national news outlet. The case started when Ocampo (2013), a popular online blogger, detailed how Pryce Plans, Inc. tried to induce him into accepting only 40 percent of the cash value of his P300,000 (approximately £4088) pension plan that had matured five years previously, or taking 80 percent equivalent in liquefied petroleum gas or memorial plots (Ocampo, 2013). It was seen as a clear violation of social norms and an unfair deal by the company.

In Indonesia, many women and girls face unchallenged social attitudes, unfair laws and stereotyped gender roles in their struggle for fair and equal treatment (Jakarta Post, 2010). Salil Shetty, of Amnesty International, comments that some of the barriers women face are a direct result of laws and policies that discriminate against them. The latest report by Amnesty International states that these discriminatory laws and bylaws in Indonesia have altered the personal lives of poor and marginalised women by denying them full control of their reproductive systems. Shetty observes, ‘Other barriers are a result of discriminatory attitudes and practices among health workers and members of the community.’ (Jakarta Post, 2010:1).

The growing interest in ethical and social marketing and fairness management approaches by organisations among academics and practitioners alike has been demonstrated. We covered 14 diverse economies in three regions: North East (China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea), South East (in two blocks: Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand; and Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia) and South (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) Asia.

Despite the sheer diversity of Asia, ethical and social marketing and fairness management have been shown to be particularly well received by some Asian firms and consumers due to emphasis on the greater societal good and Confucianism, often promoted by countries.

The rest of this article considers the managerial implications of ethical and social marketing and fairness management in Asia. This provides some guidelines for ‘best practice’, despite the limitations to such approaches (Rowley and Wei, 2011). As illustrated throughout this article, all the countries face different, complex issues, which require diverse approaches to ethics, social and fairness.

Managerial implications in Asia

By drawing from varying perspectives, we explore research and practices in very different sectors and organisations. We shall now explore the key implications for management and practice.

First, ethical marketing guidelines are recommended across Asia. Firstly, marketers should learn how to integrate ethics into the planning and strategy formulation processes. Ethics should be coordinated throughout the whole marketing process, from product development (e.g. avoid potentially dangerous, malfunctioning and environmentally harmful products, use quality assurance), price setting schemes (e.g. do not engage in price fixing, predatory price, price gouging), developing advertising and promotion strategies (marketing communications about products should not be intentionally deceptive and misleading) to choosing places to launch products (e.g. protection of consumers’ personal information online).

Secondly, understanding consumer culture and their perceptions of marketing ethics motivates marketing managers to establish codes of ethics relied on in consumer evaluations. Marketing strategies should be aligned with consumer culture values and variations in consumers’ ethical evaluations of marketing practices for different marketing segments (e.g. children, elders, women).

Thirdly, the increasing diversity of the international marketplace has significant and complex implications for marketing practices. In the past, multinational corporations (MNCs) experienced ethical dilemmas with their marketing strategies in other countries. For example, the French retailer Carrefour entered China in 1995 and in 2011 was accused by China’s National Development and Reform Commission of overcharging customers in 11 stores (Enderle and Niu, 2012). Specifically, they used normal prices as sales prices, misleading customers with price figures. As a result, the stores were fined up to US$79,365, the highest ever fine of its sort imposed in China. Thus, how local communities of the global marketplace evaluated the marketing practices of MNCs has become an important subject for marketers.

In Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, other guidelines are recommended.

Firstly, for tourism marketers and policymakers, a useful finding was the adaption of ethical marketing towards country-branding. The identification of ethical concerns and the broad and holistic view of ethics allow organisations to detect public opinion on important elements within the country’s state of affairs. This enables marketers to develop systems and adjust campaigns based on both the characteristics of the population and their corresponding views towards that of the country-branding elements.

This indicates that the best way to portray Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand is through physical, human capital, export, culture and heritage, politics, social and ethical aspects. These elements are important to foster positive emotions among a country’s citizens and are considered key tools to build competitive advantage. They have important implications for tourism marketers and policymakers, by highlighting the importance of branding with an ethical perspective towards a country’s citizens and investors, revealing elements relevant for country-branding and competitive advantage.

The key is to recognise the uncertainties related to ethical marketing from a branding perspective and to identify the factors associated with the perceptual differences among the countries that could help to manage these uncertainties. Managers need to be equipped with a better understanding of ethical issues so that they can deploy a more moral-based approach to marketing ethics. This will minimise costly mistakes and help managers to manage their resources better regarding fair use of their resources.

Specifically, identifying cross-cultural differences is key to understanding marketing strategy that uses customer segmentation and favouritism. The feelings associated with status, face and each of the country elements allows managers to develop a better grouping of their stakeholders to identify the group which needs more attention and to take action in order to keep their customers loyal.

This identification and awareness of the cultural differences will assist marketers to develop more appropriate approaches for targeting customers who are sensitive to perceptions concerning face, status and other country-brand elements. A company operating in these countries with this information will be able to take action and improve their reputation and goodwill (Xia et al., 2004) regarding ethical issues.

As guidelines for ethical marketing practices in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, we emphasise the need for a holistic marketing framework (Kotler et al., 2013) of four pillars of internal, integrated, relationship and performance marketing was applied.

Internal: Major ethical issues involving employees are their competency, attitude, awareness levels of company policy and motivation to follow it and certain degree of identification with the organisation.

Other critical ethical issues are:

  • fair and inclusive recruitment;
  • treatment of employees;
  • gender equity;
  • wages or just meeting legal requirements;
  • dealing with whistle blowers;
  • contract employees and restructuring; and
  • involuntary retirement, etc.

Integrated: This deals with both integration within (among brand management, market research, sales, post-sales-service) and without (among marketing, finance, production, systems, etc.), but still within an organisation.

Major ethical issues are:

  • promises made but not fulfilled due to lack of coordination;
  • power struggles;
  • personal reasons, etc.

Poor response to customer grievances and complaints are due to ‘turf’ issues or red tape, or simply poor processes and lack of a culture of ownership. Blatant unethical practices include making false promises, unsubstantiated claims, fine print in warranties, short-changing customers, and bribing through associates or partners while meeting legal requirements.

Relationship: This is mainly about the long term, involving mutuality and trust. As many companies survive on a short–term basis in a highly competitive, uncertain environment – aided by poor governance and unorganised and somewhat less demanding customers – this aspect of marketing is the greatest casualty in this region.

Some of the most unethical practices on targeting and positioning fall in this domain. These are:

  • political parties targeting voters based on religion, caste, sect, etc., with divisive and consolidation agendas;
  • communal overtones in appeals to voters;
  • neglect of the poor and vulnerable by health and education providers through premium pricing; and
  • targeting children for selling junk food and beverages.

Performance: This consists of three major aspects of performance with regard to:

(a) customers (including intermediaries and the regulators) in terms of satisfaction and delight;

(b) companies in terms of sales, profit, growth, brand equity and customer acquisition and retention; and

(c) society and environment in terms of equity, justice and sustainability.

In terms of ethical marketing recommendations in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, we note several concerns. The international community is supporting Vietnam’s efforts to tackle corruption.

For example, Australia has developed a three-year training programme targeting 275 members of the Vietnamese Communist Party – the most powerful political institution – with training in national integrity systems and factors contributing to corruption. The programme provides high-level policy training and operational training to tackle corruption.

Topics include in the training encompass corruption diagnosis and monitoring, financial accountability, and legislative and institutional frameworks to help prevent and deal with corruption and investigation methods (Australian Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs, 2014).

To make ethical decisions, Velasquez (2006) put forward a series of questions that sought to articulate the ethical dimension of a decision or action. If it failed at any point, it should alert us to possible ethical challenges and we should revisit the decision or action. These were as follows.

  1. What benefit and harm will each course of action produce and which alternative will lead to the best overall consequences?
  2. What are the rights of those involved and does the proposal involve risk or harm to persons, animals or property?
  3. Is the proposal consistent with the law?
  4. Is the action consistent with professional codes of ethics?
  5. Which course of action treats everyone the same, except where there is a morally justifiable reason not to and does not show favouritism or discrimination?
  6. Which course of action is and will be seen as consistent with virtues or characteristics such as integrity, honesty, etc.?
  7. Am I prepared to have my decision and the reasons for it made public?

In Cambodia, behind the doors of Khmer temples lies belief in superstitions, with rituals, spirits, ghosts, gods and sorcerers, which, it can be argued, injects immeasurable stress and fear into the lives of most Cambodians. In a country where corruption is widespread and 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line, it is vital that Cambodia’s children, its future leaders, learn how to think for themselves, how to reason, and how to be ethical and moral citizens.

For marketers, early education in ethics, fairness and morality may foster greater awareness and improved ethical marketing skills. Ethical decision-making in Cambodia may involve developing professional practice standards that hold obligations and other standards of moral conduct, determined by the customary practice of the professional community. Individuals are charged with various responsibilities or duties – for example, avoiding harm, honouring warranties, avoiding conflicts of interest and obeying legal requirements. It is also highlighted that such individuals must use professional criteria for determining appropriate actions. A good start would be to develop various professional bodies and marketing associations with codes of ethics.

In the Philippines, marketers are on the right track towards marketing ethics and its influences are fruitful for their international reputation as a place to conduct business and for foreign investors, tourists and other stakeholders. Several key duties can be identified that would apply to all marketing professionals.

  1. To provide expertise and knowledge within the limits of the marketing function.
  2. Not to knowingly advance information about a product or service that is untrue.
  3. Not to use their expertise to knowingly manipulate consumers into purchasing a product or service.
  4. Not to use their expertise to target specific groups who are not in a position to make a purchasing decision.

In Indonesia, codes of ethics and standards for behaviour are highlighted as instruments for enforcing discipline in state institutions. For marketers, this is not an exemption either. Several guidelines can be gathered to overcome corruption.

  1. The implementation of a code of ethics among civil servants would help enhance the integrity of the individual members and assist in the safeguarding of their institutions’ integrity.
  2. When state personnel work according to ethics, potential for corruption can be minimised.
  3. Collaboration between different organisations and all the components of the nation is necessary to eradicate corruption and unethical behaviour.
  4. Sustainable results will only be achieved if corruption eradication efforts are improved through a better institutionalised framework – that is, only if a government bureaucracy is capable of shutting down opportunities for corruption and is immune to corrupt practices.
  5. Corrupt officials will attempt to circumvent the system by moving funds into their private accounts; thus a review of the state financial management system is necessary to close loopholes and tighter supervision by superiors is also important.
  6. If subordinates are engaging in glamorous lifestyles and suddenly becoming rich, their superiors should accord them more attention.

Next, we examine differing perspectives of social marketing in Asia. Key suggestions on the implementation of social marketing in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea include implementation issues. We highlight critical areas, including message framing, source credibility, and media and integration issues.

Firstly, using the wrong message in health and social marketing campaigns can have potentially serious consequences: it can turn the audience off the advocated behaviour. Messages can be either loss- or gain-framed.

Gain-framed messages focus on the benefits resulting from adopting a specific behaviour, or alternatively ceasing an undesired behaviour. Conversely, a loss-framed message emphasises the potential negative consequences of not ceasing or not engaging in a desired behaviour.

Based on Regulatory-Focus Theory (Higgins, 1998), individuals holding collectivist messages have been found to be more responsive to loss-framed messages, while individuals holding individualistic vales are more likely to respond to gain-framed messages (Uskul et al., 2009). Consequently, based on the previous discussion, messages are most likely to be effective when they use loss-framed messages.

Secondly, source credibility is an important aspect of social marketing campaigns as they often have to convey relatively complex messages in simple arguments. However, source credibility can vary depending on the cultural and social/historical contexts in which a message is transmitted. Identifying source credibility and messaging strategy issues requires extensive testing. Careful testing may be especially important in contexts where social marketers have experience of adopting a campaign to ethnic minorities in one country – and are trying to transfer these campaigns to the home country.

Third, in terms of media choice, campaigns relied heavily on non-conventional media. Some of the non-conventional media used was driven by availability and access issues, but also cost issues. Consequently, many social marketing campaigns faced the need to be significantly more innovative and explore more imaginative ways of bringing their message across than American social marketing campaigns.

Social marketing is being implemented in practice in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Drawing from Andreasen (2006), six criteria that act as a check – each criteria redirects the focus back to the goals of both the programme sponsor and the consumers that the intervention seeks to influence – and a behavioural objective reminds social marketers that their goal is to change behaviour, not just educate or inform.

Additionally, audience segmentation requires clear thoughts about who the efforts are aimed towards, while formative research helps ensure an understanding of the consumer and orientation of the social marketing intervention towards the target market. Next, creating an exchange required consideration of what has to be given up by the target audience in order for them to undertake the desired behaviour while the marketing mix pushes social marketers to present holistic solutions that are attractive and valuable, assisting in inducing both trial and repeat behaviour.

Finally, consideration of the competition provided social marketers with the awareness that they must consider the competing pressures faced by consumers (many of which are far more appealing than the behaviour that social marketers are attempting to change) when planning to understand how the offering they create will reduce some of those pressures in favour of the behaviour they are trying to influence (Carins and Rundle-Thiele, 2013).

In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, we propose the implementation of social marketing using the four Ps of marketing (product, price, place and promotion) as a social marketing framework. In terms of product, it recommended focusing on high quality and good packaging, branding was also a critical element. With price, it noted that products distributed free were often perceived by consumers as low in quality. Thus, pricing affordable prices resulted in a higher perceived quality than giving them away for free. With place, it highlighted the importance of kiranas (or ‘dry grocers’), as these were the local shops where most household shopping was done. The intimate knowledge of kirana shopkeepers and friendly social relationships was considered highly important. Finally, with promotion it recommended that about 10 percent should go to promotions in retail outlets and about 5 percent go directly to promoting use. The use of mass media and print is highlighted.

In Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, we provide an overview of social marketing practice and recommendations. It is noted there are a number of key issues that are unique and create challenges for social marketers categorised as follows.

  1. sustainable development and the unintended consequences of increasing material well-being on sustainability;
  2. poverty and issues associated with alleviating poverty such as the divide between rich and poor and rapid urbanisation of agrarian populations;
  3. population health including economic, social, emotional and environmental well-being;
  4. access to water and sanitation; and
  5. side effects of modernisation and development such as road safety, waste disposal, and water and airborne pollution.

Each country has their own unique challenges when it comes to societal change, ranging from educating people to behave in ways that are not traditional to creating public policy frameworks that are inclusive of a myriad of customs and cultures.

It is suggested that social marketing and social change campaigns often focus too heavily on the downstream individuals who are carrying out ‘bad’ behaviours (Wallack, 1990), rather than influencing government and policymakers to help bring about change. Increasingly, social marketing strategies are going upstream and social marketing is used much more strategically to inform policy formulation and strategy development (Andreasen, 2006).

In the case of upstream social marketing, the focus is not so much on the individual or community, but rather on using strong target ‘market’ insight to inform and develop effective policy and strategy. Part of this is achieved through the effective use of media advocacy.

The goal of media advocacy is to influence and lead changes in government policies (Wallack, 1990). This is particularly critical given that government are the gatekeepers of the three important fundamentals of behavioural compliance. Well-designed education and training programmes, combined with effective legislation and proper enforcement, are critical to behavioural compliance in social marketing campaigns, particularly when it comes to those aimed at reducing child or adolescent injury (Harvey et al., 2009).

Finally, we cover studies exploring fairness from extant consumer behavioural and psychological theories and research. Important aspects of cultural and social indicators that influence consumers’ fairness perceptions are included, which enables readers to understand the role of fairness and subsequent application towards managing their marketing approaches.

In China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, the group affiliations and ties are deep-rooted. Thus, when managing information that could potentially be used in fairness judgments, marketers must note the significance of ‘in-group’ versus ‘out-group’ comparisons in fairness judgments (Bolton et al., 2010).

Collectivist consumers experience a greater loss of face when a friend paid a lower price than when a stranger paid a lower price. Similarly, collectivist Chinese consumers experience a greater loss of face when paying a higher price to a vendor with which they have a long-term relationship than to a newly encountered vendor. As such, if dynamic pricing is to be implemented, marketers must ensure the equal level of prices for all members of each group, although differences between groups may exist.

Whether the equity or the equality rule is utilised to arrive at fairness, perceptions depended on several moderators that shaped the situation. When the specifics of the situations are clear, the following conclusion can be made.

Those with a task-based goal, in non-personal (or business), short-term, dissimilar and distant relationship circumstances, may prefer the equity rule. Conversely, those with a relational goal, in personal, long-term, similar and close relationship circumstances, may prefer the equality rule. If faced with ambiguous or insufficient information, or limited cognitive resources, it is more likely for equality to over-rule equity (Deutsch, 1985). In Japan and South Korea, the overriding societal goal often emphasised unity and harmony. This suggests that the equality rule may be preferred in general. Reconciling this general tendency and the equity rule often used in the business setting will be a challenge for fairness managers here.

It is impossible to prevent all negative outcomes, whether regarding service failure or product pricing. However, it is feasible to install fair procedures to resolve complaints. It is crucial that interactional fairness is emphasised in this process – to offer a thorough explanation in a polite, sensitive and caring manner of communication.

These aspects of interactional fairness contribute to signalling the sincerity of the business in its commitment to be a member of the in-group in a long-term relationship. Although compensation is appreciated by consumers and is influential in determining fairness perceptions, offering compensation is going to backfire if it is given without thorough explanation and without politeness and sincerity.

The point is to convey the sincerity of the business in order to encourage customers to feel appreciated and respected, and to assist customers in saving their ‘face’ especially in public or in front of other customers. Although guanxi is cultivated by the exchange of gifts and favours, and a common practice in China and Taiwan (Hwang et al., 2009), with similarities to giri and con in Japan and inmaek in South Korea (Rowley and Harry, 2011), global marketers must be ethically conscious with such practices in managing fairness. Careful negotiation of the social relationship landscape is necessary, supported by deep understanding of the local consumer psychology.

In terms of issues in fairness management in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, here an understanding of unfairness with regards to customer management may equip managers with a better understanding of such issues so that they can deploy a fairer approach to customer management. In turn, that will help to minimise costly mistakes and support managers to utilise their resources better, so that they can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

The consequences of not addressing fairness in efforts to build relationships with customers are seen as a precursor to mistrust (Heath and Heath, 2008). Both fairness and trust are essential building blocks for successful customer management (Payne et al., 2009) and social marketing (Koschate-Fischer et al., 2012).

If customers lose trust, there will be great problems in further developing applications to collect data in order to customise products and services. Regulations may just be one of the threats that could be imposed on unfair use of technological applications. On the one hand, an organisation would want to learn as much as possible about their customers as possible to fulfil their needs and desires, but at the same time this individual treatment could result in discrimination, inequity and unfairness (Nguyen and Simkin, 2013). This is the paradox in customer relationship management (CRM).

For managers a warning follows, to emphasise the understanding of fairness and the consequences of how favouring certain customers may stir up a sense of unfairness. Perhaps, if unfair marketing approaches continue, we may very well experience the rise of marketing practitioners who are to be called before members of a Marketing Council. Once the marketing oath is taken, only then will they be able to call themselves marketers.

Managerial implications of fairness management in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are as follows: In India it is suggested that companies that practise conscious marketing embody the ideas of brand fairness and trust, and recognise that long-term survival links profit and prosperity with social justice and environmental stewardship. Eight points to consider are suggested.

  1. Firms must identify a higher purpose than simply profit maximisation or shareholder returns; they must realise that it is not about creating and exploiting short term desires, but rather to address important needs of society and individuals.
  2. Firms must exist and be managed for the benefit of all stakeholders.
  3. Managers must join and align the interests of each stakeholder and develop long term relationships.
  4. Firms must not act opportunistically or engage in exploitation of any kind.
  5. Society must be considered as the ultimate stakeholder.
  6. Firms must put emphasis on environmental sustainability to improve their goodwill.
  7. Firms must seeks to uplift rather than ignore (or exploit) the poorer sections of society.
  8. Firms must intrinsically believe that doing the right things ultimately brings improved results.

In Pakistan, the question for managers to consider is to ask what should be done to avoid the potential for such unfairness effect, and to be perceived as a fairer and more trustworthy organisation by customers. Although this was difficult at many levels, there were issues for managers to (re)consider, including those at a personal level. The main focus should be given to minimising the misuse (or overuse) of marketing tools and making management decisions to maintain and enhance relationships for long term success. Fairer marketing practices helps managers in implementing better marketing schemes necessary in today’s environment.

Three fairness dimensions are developed:

  1. awareness and problem diagnosis;
  2. managing both targeted and non-targeted customers; and
  3. emphasis on positive associations and goodwill.

In Bangladesh, it is the education and re-education of marketing practitioners, highlighting the need to incorporate fairness in order to improve the well-being of firms and society alike, that is emphasised. We advocate a need to resolve these issues of unfair and unethical behaviour by emphasising honesty, impartiality, trustworthiness, uprightness and fairness. Among other things, it is suggested that companies need to engage ‘hearts and minds’, as well as exhibit moral responsibility.

Covering guidelines of fairness management in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, we note the following key points. In Vietnam, to overcome unfairness perceptions, emphasis should be on building ties with the government and on ensuring increased transparency, which subsequently leads to fairness. The important role of incorporating fairness management by the government, highlighting transparency and reducing inequity, is illustrated.

In Cambodia, attention should be given towards perceived exploitation and perceptions of (un)fairness. In this case, the management of fairness could be stirred by using traditional marketing channels, such as a celebrity and events. Ongoing efforts by the government are necessary to ensure fairness in factories, including in areas such as payment of wages, and the length and frequency of overtime. Continuous monitoring and an inspection system are needed for sustainable development. The monitoring process produced a safer working environment and more equitable working conditions, which in turn helped to improve the international credibility of Cambodian factories. The impact of fairness management is significant, as the government was now branding itself as a labour-friendly nation, and the country’s expected entry into the World Trade Organization will keep orders and factories in the country.

In the Philippines, it is highlighted that attention should be paid to the devastating effect of negative word of mouth, especially due to violations of social norms. It is important to understand how unfairness may arise, when consumers feel exploited and taken advantage of. Firms must avoid being perceived as acting opportunistically – a recurrent theme, which stirs unfairness perceptions, leading to angry customers. If unfairness issues get out of control, firms may face increased control and regulation. It is, therefore, essential that fairness be managed systematically. Successful fairness management often simply involved the inclusion of consumers into the company to build relations, create dual value, develop transparency and develop solutions. These fair practices link well with the concepts of CRM.

Indonesia illustrated the close association between discrimination, unfairness and regulation. Fairness management is a complex issue that requires an inherent understanding of laws and regulations in order to achieve the desirable outcome of fairness. Table 2 summarises the managerial implications arising from our comprehensive review.

Table 2 Managerial implications

Ethics : Managerial Implications

For China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea

  • Marketers should learn how to integrate ethics into the whole marketing process from product development, setting price schemes, developing advertising and promotion strategies, and choosing places to launch products.
  • Understanding consumer culture and their perceptions of marketing ethics motivates marketing managers to establish codes of ethics. Marketing strategies should be aligned with consumer culture values and variations in consumers’ ethical evaluations of marketing practices for different marketing segments (e.g. children, the elderly, women).
  • Marketers must understand how local communities evaluate multinational companies’ marketing practices to avoid ethical dilemmas.

For Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand

  • Tourism marketers and policymakers must develop region/country-based systems that are localised and adjust ethical marketing campaigns based on both characteristics of the population and their corresponding views to achieve the best outcomes.
  • The best way to brand Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand is through physical, human capital, export, culture and heritage, politics, social and ethical. These elements foster positive emotions and are considered key tools to build competitive advantage, focused on ethical considerations.
  • Identification of across cultural differences in the countries is key to understanding a successful marketing strategy, here concerning status, face and each of the country elements, allowing managers to take actions in order to keep their customers loyal.

For India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

  • Major ethical marketing issues with regard to customers seem to be sporadic interest of a large number of professionally managed companies even paying lip-service to customer satisfaction, let alone exceeding their expectations. Managing satisfaction indices, in many cases, dominates over managing customer relationships.
  • Major ethical marketing issues with regard to the company seem to be internal frauds, fudging of data, leaking company plans and in some cases major frauds. A significant unethical marketing practice impacting on companies which most often does not get noticed is taking a short-cut, short-term orientation and short-changing the company of its long-term potential while showing results and reaping rewards.

For Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia

  • For marketers, early education in ethics, fairness and morality may foster greater awareness and improved ethical marketing skills. Ethical decision-making may involve developing professional practice standards that hold that obligations and other standards of moral conduct, determined by the customary practice of the professional community.
  • Several key duties can be identified that would apply to all marketing professionals: (1) a duty to provide expertise and knowledge within the limits of the marketing function; (2) not to knowingly advance information about a product or service that is untrue; (3) not to use their expertise to knowingly manipulate consumers into purchasing a product or service; and (4) not to use their expertise to target specific groups who are not in a position to make a purchasing decision.

Social : Managerial Implications

For China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea

  • Marketers must identify cultural and other aspects of a social marketing campaign that may need to be adjusted when carrying out campaigns here.
  • There is a need for more social marketing campaigns to engage local audiences around issues specifically pertinent to countries.
  • The Framework for Cross-cultural Research in Social Marketing offers an explanatory basis on which to base future research, specifically dividing the external factors and internal factors which are likely to be affected when conducting social marketing campaigns across different countries.

For Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand

  • Social marketing evaluation is vital for funding bodies and governments to determine whether interventions are successful, and calculations of return on investment are essential to demonstrate the case for continued support of programmes.
  • Twelve competencies that a practising social marketer should have and presents social marketing using Andreasen’s six social marketing benchmark criteria and offers a range of best practice examples of social marketing from Singapore, Thailand and the USA. These six criteria are: behaviour change, audience research, segmentation, exchange, marketing mix and competition.
  • How a programme is planned, tested and implemented provides a value offering that leads to behaviour change, and this is what differentiates good social marketing efforts from bad social marketing efforts.

For India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

  • Rather than focusing on selling with product-focused approaches and information-intensive campaigns focus on informing, marketers need to build long-term customer relationships and use a consumer-centred approach, where positive social change is the main objective rather than fiscal targets. The consumer should be an active participant and partner in the whole process of behaviour change.
  • In order to be effective, campaigns need to be more explicit. The importance of husbands and mothers-in-law in implementing family planning programmes are highlighted.
  • Media advertising can be effective in creating awareness and understanding of issues, but are limited in their ability to foster behaviour change.

For Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia

  • Social marketers can assist governments and non-government organisations to initiate, establish, develop and maintain programmes that will have multi-level impact.
  • Understanding customer or market needs on their own are insufficient to address the large-scale social problems that exist.
  • Key issues that face the region when it comes to social marketing can be categorised as: sustainability, poverty, population health, access to water and sanitation and side effects of modernisation, e.g. road safety, waste disposal and airborne pollution.

Fairness : Managerial Implications

For China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea

  • Marketers must note the significance of in-group versus out-group comparisons in fairness judgments.
  • Management must confirm that organisational and consumer procedures are implemented: (a) consistently, (b) without self-interest, (c) on the basis of accurate information, (d) with opportunities to correct the decision, (e) with the interests of all concerned parties represented and (f) following moral and ethical standards.
  • Management should be considerate when offering compensation to recover for service failure. Although compensation is appreciated by consumers and is influential in determining fairness perceptions, offering compensation is going to backfire if it is done without thorough explanation and without politeness and sincerity.
  • Global marketers must be ethically conscious with the guanxi practices in managing fairness. Careful treading of the social relationship landscape is necessary, supported by deep understanding of the local consumer psychology.

For Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand

  • Management must prepare the communications infrastructure and procedures for appropriate data handling in the organisation to create awareness about the consequences of unfairness.
  • s part of an ongoing effort for fairness, training must be implemented. Depending on the nature of the organisation, a number of training and coaching sessions can be combined with customer service training and fairness.
  • Marketers must aim to incorporate (and to some extent, partner with) the customers in order to improve the learning relationship, understand the customers’ needs better and create ‘win-win’ situations.

For India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

  • Management must recognise its role in crafting and articulating a higher purpose for the firm. Fairness management embraces total transparency, and seeks to connect and integrate with customers around long-term mutual value creation.
  • Managers should avoid the potential for an unfairness effect, and aim to be perceived as a fairer and more trustworthy organisation. There are issues for managers to (re)consider, including those at a personal level. The main focus should be given to minimising the misuse (or overuse) of available marketing tools and make management decisions to maintain and enhance relationships for long-term success.
  • Whichever marketing schemes are being developed, it is imperative that consideration is given to the ways in which a customer develops perceptions of unfairness and negative inferences.

For Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia

  • Managers must consider influences and moderators of customers’ unfairness perceptions, namely: (1) transaction similarity and choice of comparison party; (2) price comparison; (3) distribution of cost and profit; (4) attributions of responsibility; and (5) buyer–seller relationship stage (trust).
  • It is important that the non-targeted groups are also managed, to some extent, so that they will avoid spreading negative word-of-mouth or exhibiting other damaging misbehaviour.
  • Managers must set up appropriate service recovery strategies in any fairness management scheme. In addition, fences and penalties must be established with great care.
  • Managers must also consider consumer psychology in order to anticipate negative reactions of customers to price differences.


We have covered ethical marketing, social marketing and fairness management across diverse economies in Asia. The wealth of insight and cases are useful and relevant for a range of academics and practitioners alike.

Overall, the examples illustrate that cultural and social indicators greatly influence not only ethical and social marketing but also the way in which perceived fairness is judged, which in turn, influences consumer behaviours. Consumers know what is fair and have clear ideas about what is unfair. Thus, the role of managers is to monitor these and, if possible, influence these to the best of their abilities, in order to induce fairness for all stakeholders.

Fairness management in Asia, considered an emerging concept, still warrants much research and we propose more research, such as into the associations between fairness and discrimination and the perceptions towards these. It is especially interesting to understand the point at which one becomes the other. Other issues requiring further research include, to name a few, copyright infringements, labour exploitation, environmental pollution, unethical business practices, fair trade, consumer welfare and government regulation to mitigate unethical issues.

Fairness has wider usage beyond just marketing. It provides interesting and useful insights into context and operations on the ground and doing business in Asia. Therefore, all students and managers, from all areas and functions, can gain important knowledge on doing business in this fascinating region of the world known as Asia.

This article was co-authored by both Bang Nguyen and Chris Rowley. This article is an excerpt from their recently published book, Ethical and Social Marketing in Asia.

Bang Nguyen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Marketing at East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST), Shanghai, China. Previously, he held faculty positions at Oxford Brookes University and RMIT International University Vietnam and was a Visiting Scholar at CEIBS. Bang is an experienced consultant and advises on marketing and brand development for SMEs and start-up, and has extensive knowledge in service organizations (consumer products/services). He has published widely in journals and has published in more than 70 peer reviewed scientific articles and books, as well as presented at national and international conferences. His research interests include customer relationship management, services marketing, consumer behaviour, branding and social marketing.

#Ethicalmarketing | #socialmarketing | #fairnessmanagement

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