Marketing. When a Gift Becomes a Bribe

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A gift is something given to another person, purely without expecting something back in return, while a bribe is something given in expectation of better treatment or to influence and alter the behavior of the recipient. In marketing, it’s important to observe professional ethics that regulate receiving gifts from publics. Ethics can therefore be described as personal conducts that help in differentiating right from wrong and enabling the stakeholders emphasize transparency, responsibility and policies of the organization. Moral values and virtues constitute ethics that explain fairness, honesty and responsibility.

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Gift giving in marketing world is not unusual as it enhances the company’s image. Businesses involve personal interactions and it’s almost impossible to rule out gift giving. Gifts can be given for a number of reasons like, in appreciation for past relationships, to create a positive impression especially during first encounters to facilitate the establishment of new relationships, and to return a favor.

It is important that marketers observe certain regulations when dealing with stakeholders. They must attain and maintain trust. This ensures that the company’s operations comply with the required rules to meet its stakeholders’ expectations and any communication given is not misleading or deceptive. They must also do no harm; intentional or unintentional, harm should be avoided at all cost. This entails observing laws and regulations applicable in ethical standard measurement. They must also communicate and practice fundamental ethical values to those concerned, gaining the advantage enhancing trust.

In order to demarcate when a gift becomes a bribe, it’s important to observe certain precautions and guidelines that enable us to do this. The content of the gift is important to be considered. In content, we ask, “What is the gift? The nature? and how is it related to the operations of the company?” A gift that is not related to the company’s operations is doubtful. This could be a personal gift like flowers that are meant directly affect the recipient’s behavior while dealing with the sender. A good ethical gift should be connected to the recipient’s nature of professional work and one that can facilitate effective company operations hence increasing productivity. The gift is also best if it has a connection to the givers’ company or line of work.

Context is another way to determine that ethical issue in gift giving. Context refers to the reason the gift was given. What is its purpose to the recipient? Is it meant to influence the receiver into unethical actions? A gift given with such intention is unethical and therefore qualifies as a bribe. A gift given for certain festive seasons or on certain occasions like anniversaries and are meant simply for motivation or appreciation are well intentioned and can therefore not be termed as a bribe (Murphy, 2008).

Culture of gift giving help understand the situation behind a gift. It could be in the company’s culture to offer gifts to employees or other stakeholders and vice versa so it will not be unusual to do so. Such gifts are not meant to influence the recipient’s future actions towards the giver nor affect their decision making. Some questions to ask ourselves are, “how do we base our ethical standards? This will help in noticing when we are out of line, and “how do we apply the above standards in our daily operations with others?”

These differences are useful to note so that an organization and its employees are able to act within the law and avoid negative image to its publics. Bribes also have negative consequences that can b avoided if a clear difference is put between a gift and a bribe. Apart from avoiding legal issues, bribes lower morale of those involved, leads to a corrupt culture by employees i.e. expecting bribes to perform duties, and generally destroy the organization’s brand. All these will affect production and future judgments of the people involved.

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Stakeholders that an organization deals with involve both internal and external publics. Publics refer to the community or prospective people that an organization deals/ hope to deal with for the continuation of its operations, which are directly or indirectly affected by the organizations actions. These stakeholders include employees, board of directors, media, regulators, suppliers, debtors, creditors, banks, competitors, immediate community, etc the media is the largest and most important stakeholder as it links the organization to all other stakeholders. Therefore it’s important that a company maintains a positive and good relationship with the media. Bribery should be ruled out as this will automatically come out if practiced. Media refers to print or broadcast (news papers, radio or television). Suppliers are those who provide essential tools or services that a company requires for its operations on occasional basis, competitors are other companies or individuals in the same business category carrying out the same activities, debtors are those who the company assets, money, or services, the community refers to the place of an organization’s location or its immediate environment’s surrounding, banks offer financial services to the company, employees and directors both work within the company for the common good of its success.

Major ethical issues faced by publics differ because of their level of involvement in the organization’s operations, and the importance that the organization attaches to them. However, bribery affects all their operations and maybe experienced differently. An organization that has a culture of bribing in order to promote employees directly affects performance of that in and prospective employee. Those who require bribes to offers tenders affect suppliers, while generally bribing media personalities to hold information or give false information affects all the stakeholders. Therefore all the above stakeholders could agree that there is an ethical issue in gift giving. I.e. what would be the attitude towards a stake holder that frequently gives fits and towards one that rarely does so? What is the difference in interaction towards stakeholders that give “expensive “gifts and one that give “cheap” gifts? If all these are taken into account there will emerge a difference hence prove an ethical issues in gift giving.

The frameworks available in understanding ethics in businesses are:

  • The Utilitarian Approach. This seeks to produce the most good and least harm i.e. minimizing the gap between the good and the bad, between the stakeholders. This framework mainly affects those who are directly affected by the company’s daily operations like employees and suppliers.
  • The Rights approach. This emphasizes the human and professional rights of stakeholders. It understands that all human beings have moral rights i.e. the right to a dignified way of living (affects employees and community), the right to privacy (affects debtors) the right to be told the truth, (affects investors, employees, debtors, and creditors), the right not to be injured, (community and employees) etc. Community is affected in the sense that suppose the company’s operations cause danger to the environment their lives would be affected (Winstanley & Woodall, 2000).
  • The common good approach. This approach seeks to emphasize the things that improve the welfare of all. This welfare constitutes health, security and recreational welfare. How can an organization improve its operation to cater for peoples’ welfare like education, laws? Recreational centers, etc. this also fulfills the corporate social responsibility the organization owes to the community. It will help improve its image.
  • The virtue approach. This deals with the individual in question and asks, “Is this action consistent with my personality? What kind of a person will I be after this?” all of us have virtues that we hold dearly, like honesty, fairness, fidelity, prudence, tolerance, integrity, etc. our actions should be at par with our virtues. Going against our virtues is a clear indicator that we are doing something wrong.
  • Fairness / justice approach. Emphasizes that all human beings should be treated equally without any sort of discrimination, ether racial, gender, ethnic, physical abilities, etc. in the current world, this affects all the above stakeholders as equality is almost impossible. Top CEOs are paid more even though their work is generally reduced by virtue of their positions, racial and gender discrimination is present, etc.

All the above are important in helping us act within the normal and acceptable ways of behavior. Being human beings, these approaches cannot affect us the same way as we always have different opinions about all aspects in life. We cannot agree on laws and accept what is right or wrong, neither do we have same standards for measuring equality, and they consequently do not tell what is ethical and what is not.

As a manager, I would ask myself a number of questions before arriving at an alternative to address a problem. The best is one that helps in decision making that a majority are considered. Some of the questions include, “is this a decision between good and bad? Who are the main stakeholders involved, is this decision harmful or dangerous to someone and how? What are other options for actions? Etc.” after this, get the detailed relevant facts and evaluate the facts using the above five frameworks, then make a decision, and then implement the decision (Andreasen, 2001).

To increase stakeholder compliance, a manager needs to observe certain guidelines. This includes:

  • Listening to your stakeholders

This makes you aware of their grievances, and suggestions to your improvement. When you listen to someone, you involve them in your operations giving them a sense of importance hence increasing their compliance. Understand their interests in your organization. This ranges from their expectations like high sales, excellent services, better pay, fast delivery, etc. once you understand their interests, you work towards achieving these interest and this will automatically increase their compliance,

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Understand stakeholder influence in your culture. Stakeholders have the ability to emphasize the organization’s values and make them a daily routine. This makes them part of the organization. Communicating with stakeholders also increases compliance. This involves giving them relevant information like results, making them aware of your objectives etc (Holstein & Mitzen, 2001).

It is also mandatory that you acquire appropriate certifications that prove your compliance with rules and regulations. This increases trust within stakeholders. If the stakeholders do not agree with the ethical issues present, it is important to talk with them and get their views about the case. Make them aware of any legal issue involved and let them be aware of consequences of your actions. It is important to communicate with them and involve them in all decision making. In convincing them, you could also compare with them how other organizations handle such issues and what is generally expected of them.

Other forms of motivations and team building options help stake holders understand the managements’ operations thereby reducing problems and frictions between them. This could range from salary raise to discounts (George, 2008).


In conclusion, managers are faced with the tough task of maintaining professionalism and accepting gifts from stakeholders without letting them think it’s purely professional. It’s important for them to study, know and understand their stakeholders in order to avoid inappropriateness. The above guidelines are could help them make better judgments. Morals, values and ethics are more of personal choices and are that difficult to control. All the codes o conducts and regulations are written just to be guidelines for behavior but the final judgments lies within the individuals. It is not religion, code of conduct, science, or societal norms. It is the individuals’ mind frame and psychological setting.


Andreasen, R. A. (2001). Ethics in Social Marketing. Washington D.C: Georgetown University Press.

George, G. B. (2008). Marketing ethic. Michigan: Blackwell Pub.

Holstein, M. & Mitzen, P. (2001). Ethics in community based elder care. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

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Murphy, E. P. 2008. Marketing ethics: Guidelines for managers. Carlifornia: Lexington Books.

Winstanley, D. & Woodall, J. (2000). Ethical issues in contemporary Human resource management. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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