For my first startup in 1996, I rented a small office at a business center. My office was all of 56 sq feet. My neighbor was a 'promotion coordinator' who seemed to be doing well in more ways than one. His office measured 150 sq feet (size did matter then) and through the day he had a constant stream of good looking people (mostly women) coming into his office. He explained that his clients were liquor companies who were affected by the recent ban on mass media advertising (in India) and were looking at enhancing their presence at 'points of consumption' - aka pubs. I asked him if it ever disturbed him or his clients that they were probably making young, impressionable males drink more than they should. He had another vodka and we changed the topic.
A few years later, another friend at British American Tobacco (Dunhill, Rothmans, etc) in the Middle East was running similar 'point of consumption' promotions. He was a non smoker and did not wish to dwell on the 'ethics' of his profession. So, I left it at that.
At that time, I simplistically thought only 'vice products' had ethical issues to address!
I now believe that fast food, sodas, beverages, malt beverages, fairness creams, all belong on that list - admittedly with varying shades of gray. From Horlicks who promises kids that they will gain 2 inches in height to drinks who aren't upfront about the havoc high fructose corn syrup can wreak on our bodies to fairness creams that prey on our insecurities - they all have ethical issues to ponder over.
I'm unable to fathom how a product manager can sleep well knowing that his product will not make a kid smarter as his ad loudly promises. Or has he drunk too much of his own
I worked in advertising for a few years so I can understand the apathy and sense of detachment a marketer can assume (while simultaneously having focus groups to 'get under the skin' of his consumer). Many of these marketers are good, decent people who, strangely, don't seem to have an issue with the ethics of their trade. Something's certainly wrong- somewhere!
Which brings me to software...
Most of the time, it's WYSIWYG. There's almost no gap between what a customer evaluates and what she gets. Hyperbole can get you, at best, a trial. Thereafter, your product does the talking and in this age of free trials, freemium models & rampant choice, it better speak for itself!
I'm not saying software vendors are holier (than thou). Just that selling software is certainly a lot easier on the conscience!
(clarification: enterprise software suffers more of the ills ascribed to consumer products, albeit, to a lesser extent. But what the heck, if they're selling vaporware to McDonalds, so be it)
X Ray Image: Flickr | Creative Commons