The story behind perceived marketing unfairness

As marketers, it is our job to ensure that our brand is being perceived in the most positive way we can. From corporate social responsibility to customer service, it is our job to ensure all media is portrayed and communicated positively. The reality is, that is not always the case. And once you have a media mishap or negative perception about your brand in the market, it is difficult to shift that perception back. But what is perception and how can I change perceived unfairness?


Sometimes perception and sensation are connected and that are very closely related. Although sensation is the input obtained by sensory receptors, perception is the process of determining those stimuli using one or more of our five senses. Those senses include vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The combination of these senses is what we use to react to stimuli that are inflicted by our surroundings and in our case marketing practices. However, sometimes those stimuli created don’t necessarily seem fair. How do we change that?

Are you treating your customers fairly?

At times, brands may need to make a shift in strategy that may not sit well with existing customers. The shift can be taken personally and leave a sour taste in the customer’s mouth. But why do they feel as they are being treated unfairly? An instance of perceived unfairness can be in price changes. Extensive research in the Journal of Marketing shows a conceptual framework of what price fairness is. “When the price being judged differs from the price in the reference transaction, the price difference may induce an unfairness perception.” These transactions lead to a comparison where the feeling of unfairness is derived. According to this academic marketing journal, price comparisons lead to one of three types of judgments:

  1. Equality – this judgment doesn’t trigger a fairness perception.
  2. Advantaged inequality – this leads to a judgment that whether the price is not as fair than an equal price of a similar product or service.
  3. Disadvantage inequality – this judgment is when the buyer tries to maximize his or her outcome.

Changes in pricing

Many factors go into changing prices. As marketers, we need to not only consider the business impact through revenue, volume, and profit but also the impact on our audience. Sometimes, price changes are unavoidable and due to operational costs, these are passed down to the consumer. In other cases, price elasticity goes into play and changes do not impact the market, for instance, Gucci or premium brands. However, some other not so premium brands have many things to consider and perceived unfairness is one of them.

There are many other aspects of perceived unfairness when making changes to strategy and pricing for brands. Have you had any issues with perceived unfairness? Share your thoughts and comment below. And don’t forget to read up on other marketing-related geeky stuff on my blog.

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