This article explores the traditional role of marketing in Scotland, how it still is largely played out, and where it has become staunchly unethical. Unethical marketing of products/services that don’t work, and the spreading of fallacious news is nothing unique to Scotland, and so much here is translatable to other countries in the world. However, as someone living in Scotland, I wanted to have a slightly more Scottish-focus to this piece.
The Role of Marketing in Scotland
Scotland, as a traditional Western nation has very similar types and styles of marketing found in comparable countries (i.e. England, the United States and Australia). Much of the uniqueness comes from the marketing of the country itself and its various national images. When one typically thinks of Scotland, they think of tartan, bagpipes, the Highland cow (known locally as the ‘hairy coo’), the Highlands, castles, shortbread, Harris tweed, and of course the ‘water of life’, Scotch whisky. Interestingly, a lot of the romanticism of Scottish culture that has been played on by marketers, was developed thanks to the writings of Sir Walter Scott. Sir Walter took Edinburgh (the capital of Scotland) and the rest of Europe by storm, being one of the most widely read authors in all of Europe in the 19th century. Today, the romantic images of the tartan-draped Scot playing ‘Scotland the brave’ in a Highland fog to onlookers imbibing fine Scotch is easy to visualize and can be found marketed around the nation. This has had an extraordinary effect on tourism with over £11 billion a year brought in by tourists, creating over 340 000 jobs (amazing for a country with a population of only 5.2 million people. Thus the marketing of the national identity of Scotland (romanticized or not) helps drive economic growth and increased national revenue via taxes, and thus provides us with many pleasant things all civilized societies should have such as free healthcare, free medicines, and free education. However, not all is well with marketing in Scotland, and I am not just talking about the problems Brexit will bring especially to Scotland’s enormous tourism sector.
Unethical Marketing Examples
The two most unethical things marketed in Scotland or that utilize unethical marketing (that is, the class of product is not unethical, but the marketing around it is) are National Health Service-based (NHS) homeopathy and tabloid newspapers (in my opinion). The NHS in Scotland is devolved from that in England, which eliminated all funding for homeopathy recently due to it having zero evidence for its effectiveness. Whilst the spending on it is rather small at a mere £1.7 million, the fact that there is no evidence base for it in medicine and that misled patients using it frequently delay actual treatment, any spending and marketing of it is to be deemed unethical.
Tabloid newspapers have been around since 1903 (the still running Daily Mirror) and are characterized by their sensationalistic content. However, there is an argument to be made in their contribution to the warping of the less well educated public at large who consume them with ravenous gluttony. In Scotland, as in much of the other countries of the United Kingdom, they typically are given out for free or cheaply to fuel this consumption, and contain egregious lies and libel they are able to easily get away with. This in my view (and others) contributes to a subversion of Western democracy by preying on the gullible who are allowed a vote. Some of the lies include cancer/vaccine myths to fuel fear (Anorak has a compilation of the litany of things the Daily Mail claims to cause cancer), outrage against immigrants to help spur on violence, libel, and frequent anti-Scottish National Party news stories that amount to demonstrable fake news. Such widespread and dangerous misinformation parading as journalism should be considered unethical.
Recommendations for Change
If I were a marketing manager for the NHS Scotland and its services, I would be arguing for a complete ban on any marketing and funding for homeopathy. Instead I would prefer those resources went into the marketing of evidence-based prevention of Scotland’s health scourges of alcohol abuse and obesity. Personally, due to the absolute dearth of evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy, I would recommend it be banned and would call on the Scottish government to take a firm, evidence-based stance. With respect to tabloids, since I think there should be staunch legal penalties for journalists lying and media spreading misinformation, if I were the editor of a trashy tabloid I would want to develop robust systems for enhanced journalistic integrity, thus helping to elevate the tabloid from mere trash status. Nothing should be marketed without fact-checking in order to enhance reputability. Strong government crackdowns on demonstrably fake news and increased libel actions should be taken against those marketing tabloids and other news media.