Jigsaw puzzles: fitting together the moral pieces

Stephen P. Hogan (Brighton Business School, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Publication date: 1 December 2005



Fitting ethical responsibilities into day‐to‐day business practice represents a challenge for marketers who have to operate at the customer interface. When young children are the target market the puzzle becomes more complex. Based on a case study of the toy industry, this paper examines the moral issues of “care” and “vulnerability” and evaluates toy company practice.


The paper builds upon Ross' proposed prima facie duties of benevolence, fidelity, and nonmaleficence (1938), which it argued are particularly relevant when vulnerable consumers are involved. The supporting fieldwork is based on qualitative interviews with senior managers in 12 leading UK‐based toy companies and compares the findings with other documentary evidence.


Evidence of some ethical responsible practice was discovered although this appeared to be primarily driven by external forces rather than company philanthropy. Although the companies argued that targeting children directly is supported by their human rights, this practice will always attract criticism on moral grounds because of children's widely accepted vulnerability. The study identifies a paradox that it is parents who fund most toy purchases but are often overlooked in the marketing process who are vulnerable as well as their children.


This paper adds to the limited literature on ethical issues in marketing to children and provides empirical evidence from an important children's market. The paper seeks to provide a balanced account of where the toy companies are adopting a responsible approach and where they still need to improve their moral credentials.



Hogan, S. (2005), "Jigsaw puzzles: fitting together the moral pieces", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 385-398. https://doi.org/10.1108/13522750510619751

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