The Ethics Issues in Business Bluffing
Bluffing entails identifying opportunities to withhold particular facts to convince people to agree with an idea being presented. Bluffing is a common practice in most business-related dealings. Because bluffing is a game of trickery, which entails convincing people to buy a product or to use a service, business people often bluff with the purpose of gaining competitive advantage. As with diplomacy and poker (the other situations in which bluffing is relevant), the act helps businesspersons by placing them at an advantageous position in relations pertaining to business.This is regardless of whether the information presented is factual. Considering that bluffing may involve conveying information that is not truthful, its practice in business dealings has been questioned. This idea is central to the discussion in Albert Carr’s (1968) article, “Is Business Bluffing Ethical.” The article suggests that business bluffing is not unethical, since it does not involve any form of wrongdoing. Carr suggests that, without bluffing, it is unlikely that a business person would survive in the highly competitive business environment, in which executives must strategize and act to make their strategies work. By focusing on a case study of Coca-Cola, this paper will demonstrate how bluffing can be done right towards achieving a positive end.This discussion will argue that, business bluffing is ethical as long as it is well executed, without conveying information that would impact negatively on the credibility of the company.
Carr’s article begins by revisiting a situation in which the author interacted with a business person who did not believe in the concept of bluffing. The businessman thought that encouraging bluffing is synonymous with justifying lying and that withholding the truth is unethical. The author, while acknowledging that truthfulness contributes to the morality of people’s actions, also believes that bluffing should be regarded as a game strategy. Just like the ability of a person to bluff in a poker game should not be used to judge his or her morality, a business’s ability to bluff ought not to be used as the basis of condemning its operations as unethical. This idea implies that bluffing should be accepted in circumstances whereby the truth is not expected, as with diplomacy, defense in a court of law, and the game of poker. Accordingly, the author uses the example of a defendant’s attorney, whose job is to acquit his or her client whether guilty or not, yet the remarks they bring forth, however lacking in truth, are never regarded as being unethical.
Albert Carr proceeds to explain why withholding the truth may be the right step for persons seeking to gain a competitive advantage. He suggests that millions of individuals find themselves in compromising situations frequently – situations in which they have to say yes or no, because saying otherwise would lead to the loss of jobs or opportunities. Carr proceeds to provide an example in which an interviewee had to provide the answers that he felt would improve his chances of being accepted for a job position while avoiding those that represented his belief system. The fact that he was approved for the job justified his choice of answers, without reflecting on his morality. In the same way, he found that the same businessman who vehemently rejected the idea of bluffing was knowingly involved with advertising schemes that made his products seem better than they were. The businessman was also working with some of his competitors to push for state legislation that would favor his business practices. By engaging in deception, the businessman was unknowingly bluffing. Indeed, while bluffing may be executed in many forms and strategies, it is usually based on the basic concept of withholding facts and with the goal of gaining competitive advantage.
A perfect example of business bluffing has been demonstrated by The Coca-Cola Company. In its most recent advertising strategy, the company used the slogan “Taste the Feeling”. The slogan, which was used globally, is accompanied by clips of people having the time of their life while enjoying such experiences as victory and moments of thrill (Steenkamp 45). These experiences seem to suggest that the feeling of enjoying the cola beverage can only be compared to the moment of savoring the best that life has to offer. The idea that this marketing idea constitutes of bluff stems from the fact that enjoying a soda is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, other than temporarily quenching thirst, there is not much that can be taken from the experience of taking the beverage.
Despite that the promotional slogan used by Coca-Cola is not factual; it is properly executed to provide consumers with the yearning to “taste the feeling”. Furthermore, the company is keen to comply with the ethical demands of marketing, so that the bluffing strategy does not compromise on the company’s reputation. This is made possible by avoiding misleading information that could be considered deceptive or misleading. Based on findings by Elizabeth Creyer (421), consumers have high expectations regarding firms’ ethical practice. It is thus expected of the Coca-Cola Company to not only produce quality beverages, but also to uphold responsible marketing methods. Creyer (427) also demonstrates that upholding ethical practice is important concern for consumers, which helps to influence their purchase decisions. This is to suggest that, by failing to meet ethical standards in its promotional messages, the company risks losing its hold on the beverage market.
Business bluffing is a strategy that may be employed in dealing with different stakeholders involved in the life of a business, including customers, suppliers, and government officials, among others. In spite of the potential effectiveness of this strategy, it is pertinent to understand the importance of conducting business with integrity in the 21st Century (Provis 146). According to Provis, while economic necessity might warrant business bluffing, companies must identify the importance of abiding by the laws of the land at all times (147). Simultaneously, it is necessary for every company to have a code of ethics, to which all company representatives must adhere. Executives must ensure that, while pursuing competitive advantage, the company respects the value of the people who constitute the stakeholders of the company (Provis 150). This is to suggest that business bluffing should not come in the way of ethical conductance of business.
Failure to identify the importance of playing by strict ethical guidelines has led various multinationals to use the bluffing strategy improperly. Some have suggested that they extend their CSR practices to developing nations, where they provide employment opportunities for the unemployed. In reality, however, these multinationals have been found recruiting underage individuals, overworking their employees, unsustainably compensating their employees, and subjecting employees to dangerous working conditions, among other practices (Provis 151). Such corporations do so to minimize costs of production while maximizing returns, and this is evidence of businesses taking advantage of the ability to bluff to engage in the unethical practice. Even in the absence of a law to determine the minimum working conditions for employees in developing nations, enterprises must conduct their business ethically. It is only by extending their operations beyond the duty of providing employment opportunities for improving the living conditions of the people they serve that they can be credited for engaging in CSR.
If done wrong, business bluffing could have damaging repercussions on an enterprise. For instance, a business could advertise a product as being the best item in the market, only for the product to offer underwhelming performance, or worse, to become a safety hazard. Such was the case with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, a high-end smartphone released by the company in 2016. Having been aggressively marketed for its superior performance over competitor gadgets, particularly the rival Apple Inc.’s iPhone 7 Plus, the product had to be discontinued shortly after being released (Byford). The company had engaged in hasty manufacturing practices to meet the global demand for the product, which led engineers to overlook a design flaw in the gadget’s battery that caused the device to explode (Byford). Following several reports of explosions, the gadget was recalled. On the one hand, Samsung’s bluffs had won customers over, making the device so popular that orders exceeded the company’s production potential. On the other hand, the engineering prowess that was required to justify the bluffs was improperly executed, damaging the company’s reputation altogether.
Based on the negative reviews given for the Samsung product following the sequence of events, as well as underwhelming performance of subsequent Samsung products, it is safe to state that customers considered the bluffing ideas used by Samsung to be unethical (Byford). In order to repair the company’s reputation and make it easy for the company to regain its competitive edge over Apple Inc., it is necessary that the company exceeds customers’ expectations by providing them with new high end-products at competitive prices, while guaranteeing efficiency, durability, and proper after-sale services. Before pursuing similar agendas that entail bluffing, I would advise the company to prioritize on customers’ needs and expectations instead. This would mean taking time in the company’s production processesand choosing reputable suppliers to alienate safety hazards similar to those observed in the production of Samsung Galaxy Note 7. It is worth noting that being under pressure for time and production volume does not justify bluffing unethically.
Companies ought to show their commitment to resolve issues that emerge from bluffing to gain a competitive advantage not only to address the problems but also to justify customers’ loyalty. The best way out would be exceeding customers’ expectations by providing them with high-end products at competitive prices. Such a situation would also provide an excellent opportunity for the business to act the bluff – to manufacture a product or provide the service advertised, without hidden terms that may interfere with the customer’s ability to enjoy the full range of services/features initially advertised.
For a business that intends to use bluffing as a strategy, it is necessary that it puts in place the necessary imperatives to ensure that its employees meet ethical guidelines. This would help the company’s representatives to understand the distinction between bluffing and deception.It is also necessary that the business comes up with exhaustive terms and conditions. The terms and conditions would act as guidelines for customers who would want to understand the nature of information presented through a bluff, while protecting the business from being legally liable for conveying false information.
In conclusion, when one considers the business practice a game in which only the most skilled and forward-thinking player wins, bluffing is necessary for gaining a competitive advantage. Bluffing is the process of identifying opportunities to withhold particular facts to convince people to agree with an idea being presented. In line with Carr’s argument, just like it is not unethical for a defendant’s attorney to withhold crucial facts to guarantee the acquittal of the defendant, bluffing in business is warranted by economic necessity. Nonetheless, it is relevant that companies operate within the law of the land. Businesses also need to adhere to a set of ethical guidelines to govern their practice in protecting the interests of the people who work for them, as well as those they serve. Following these guidelines should be the standard procedure for the company in regions where labor practices are not regulated by law.
Byford, Sam. “Samsung said bad batteries and rushed manufacturing doomed the Galaxy Note 7.”The Verge. (2017). Accessed from https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/22/14353686/samsung-galaxy-note-7-recall- reason-report
Carr, Albert. “Is business bluffing ethical?” Harvard Business Review 143 (1968): 155.
Creyer, Elizabeth H. “The influence of firm behavior on purchase intention: do consumers really care about business ethics?.” Journal of consumer Marketing 14.6 (1997): 421- 432.
Provis, Chris.”Ethics, deception and labor negotiation.” Journal of Business Ethics 28.2 (2000): 145-158.
Steenkamp, Jan-Benedict.”Customer Propositions for Global Brands.”Global Brand Strategy. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2017. 45-73.