If a marketing tactic works, but people hate it, should you use it?

It’s a scenario straight out of Kiefer Sutherland’s TV series 24. There’s a ticking time bomb somewhere in the city. The only way to stop it is to torture a captured suspect into revealing its location. Yes, torture is wrong. But is it worth it to save the lives of hundreds of innocent people?

What do you do?

This hypothetical dilemma has come up so many times in both fiction and serious philosophical and ethical debates that it has a name: the ticking time bomb scenario.

It’s an uncomfortable choice. Many people avoid having to make it by pointing out that the scenario itself is highly implausible. (For a variation on this, there’s an interesting thought experiment known as the Trolley problem too — always good for a lively debate at the pub.) We prefer solutions that allow us to both keep the city safe and uphold our ethical values.

So how is any of this relevant to marketing management?

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