Research Insights 18.2 The General Theory of Marketing Ethics

Marketing, Society, Sustainability, and Ethics

Source: Hunt, S. D. and Vitell, S. (2006), ‘The general theory of marketing ethics: a revision and three questions’, Journal of Macromarketing, 26, 2, 143–53.

Abstract: The general theory of marketing ethics, first published in the Journal of Macromarketing by Hunt and Vitell (1986), has been the focus of much discussion and empirical testing. As a result, the theory was revised in 1993. This article overviews the 1993 revision of the model and addresses three questions that are often asked by those who use the model in the classroom and/or in research: (1) What is the justification for using normative ethical theory as a starting point for positing a positive ethical theory? (2) Is the Hunt Vitell (H-V) model a causal model, that is, is each concept in the model a construct to be measured? (3) How, specifically, can the H-V theory be used to teach marketing and business ethics?


This article builds upon the authors’ 1986 paper—one of the most highly cited in marketing ethics—which defined the study of marketing ethics (Hunt and Vitell, 1986). This 2006 article suggests that the original 1986 theory required revision because the model was applicable in any ethical decision-making situation, not only in business and management contexts, and required empirical testing. The authors argue that ethical judgements lead to intentions and hence to behaviour. Our intentions to act ethically, however, can be based on two different types of motivation, based on two main traditions in ethics. On the one hand, ethical decisions can be based on a set of rules or principles (that is, deontological ethics); on the other, ethical

choices can be based on the perceived positive consequences of an action (that is, teleological ethics). Which of these two is preferred will depend on contextual and personal factors.