2022-09-30 15:48:38

Transcript

On January 25th, 2018, electric vehicle startup company Nikola uploaded a stunning video to its YouTube channel. In the video, a promo clip for the electric powered Nikola 1 semi truck, a massive tractor trailer hauls a load of freight through the Utah Desert, seemingly powered by a Nikola Battery.

This was a major accomplishment. It takes a lot of power to start and move an 18 Wheeler. For a long time, it had seemed doubtful that electric batteries alone could provide the horsepower needed to drive big rigs. But with Nikola apparently testing a working model, the company looked poised to disrupt the entire shipping industry.

Investors quickly got excited by the video, and by the claims made by then-CEO Trevor Milton. In 2019, for instance, Milton told Forbes Magazine that “Nikola’s battery cell has double the energy density and only 40% of the weight and half the cost of 2170 lithium ion cells used in Tesla and other consumer market electric vehicles.” When the company went public on June 4th, 2020, its value quickly jumped to $13 billion and then kept going up.

With only $80,000 in revenue, Nikola looked like it was about to revolutionize the trucking industry. And it might have...if Trevor Milton had actually had a working truck to sell.

Just a few months after Nikola went public, Hindenburg Research Group, a team of short sellers investigating the company’s claims, published a report proving that the Nikola One video had been faked. By reviewing messages from former employees, analyzing the footage, and surveying the location where it was filmed, the Hindenburg researchers demonstrated that the Nikola One had never moved under its own power. Instead, the truck had been towed to the top of a long, low grade hill and was filmed as it coasted down a two mile stretch of road. By angling the camera, Nicola’s team had been able to make it look as if the truck were traveling on flat roads or even moving uphill.

Worse still, two years after the release of the video, Nicola didn't even have a working truck battery. Trevor Milton's claims to Forbes and other sources had been made-up on the spot and had no basis in reality. The CEO had flat out lied to investors and the public at large.

With the truth out, the value of Nicholas stocks plummeted, the company lost a major deal with General Motors, and Trevor Milton stepped down as CEO. The Nikola scandal is often cited as a cut and dried example of shady marketing tactics. An example of what not to do when trying to promote a product or service. What were Nikola executives thinking when they decided to trick stakeholders out of their money? Is there any way that the company's actions could be justified? And what lessons can we learn from the debacle about how we should handle our own marketing?

I'm Myles McDonough, and you're listening to the Free Ranger.

Welcome to the Free Ranger, a podcast about telling the stories that matter.

On this podcast, we'll be learning about storytelling from the people who turn important issues into stories. The writers, film makers, marketers, academics, and other professionals who weave together the facts to create compelling narratives that make a difference.

This season, we'll be speaking with experts on marketing ethics, the moral principles that guide us as we tell stories about products, services, and organizations, and how to make sure we're putting those principles into practice.

We're happy to welcome Heather Salazar, associate professor of philosophy at Western New England University. Heather's research focuses on the nature, origin, and force of our obligations to ourselves and others, exploring the concept of enlightened self-interest from both Western and Eastern perspectives. She is the author of Creating a Shared Morality, a book discussing the potential of Neo Kantian Ethical Constructivism as an ethical framework for our modern world. She is also the Co editor of Mind Over Matter, a collection of essays on the spiritual dimension of human achievement.

In our discussion, Heather shared her thoughts on the Nikola scandal, the value of multiple ethical frameworks in marketing and business, and the importance of remembering what truly matters when we're faced with tough ethical choices...

Myles: Heather Salazar, thank you so much for joining us here on the Free Ranger podcast. We're glad to have you.

Heather: Thank you, Myles. I really appreciate coming today.

Myles: First question, this is a big one. How do you define ethics?

Heather: Well, that's a really interesting question and I actually just put out a book on what I believe ethics is. In this book, called Creating a Shared Morality, I discuss how we can bring everybody together into a common ethical vision. Not just Western ethical theories, but also Eastern ethical theories.

And on my view, which is called enlightenism, ethics is really something that is a personal choice, and arises from a person's own identities and roles that they have. But in considering all of the rules and identities that we have, if we have a truly deep reflection on all of those roles that we have, then we are actually creating multiple stories and trying to figure out what would be best given our current rules?

And then if it shows that if a person is able to choose based on that deep reflection on their current roles, then that is ethical, whatever they've chosen to do. Would you like a little more explanation?

Myles: Yes, please.

Heather: OK. So for example, when we're looking at businesses, there's the identity that somebody has as a business person. But they also have all of these other identities. So they have an identity as a community member, as a family member, and then as a member of humanity. And so oftentimes people will segment themselves, and it's common in business for people to say, you know, you really just have to compartmentalize your decisions. But by compartmentalizing our decisions, what we're really doing is cutting ourselves up, and that's really superficial way of viewing ourselves and our actions.

Therefore our actions end up becoming self-defeating, really, to our own personal identities. So a common example would be, you know, a business person who's a shark at work, right? And then at home they want to come home and they want to be a loving father or mother or a sister or brother. But that sharpness that they develop when they're at work for 40 plus hours a week ends up filtering into their personal lives, and then their personal relationships end up becoming fraught with difficulties.

So instead of this segmented fragmented approach to a person, if we all started acting as if we are whole people instead of fragmented individuals, we would make better decisions. So a business person, you know, on my view would also be thinking for every single business action that they that they make: How does this affect me as, you know, a father of someone? How does this affect me as a community member in my in my community where, you know, there might be pollution, for example? And then finally, how does this affect me as a member of humanity? How do I feel about just being a member of humanity and making this decision?

And if we really, truly reflect on all of these identities. I believe that more often than not, people will make very different choices than what they currently make. And more enlightened choices. And that's why I call my view enlightenism.

Myles: Why did you decide to study ethics?

Heather: Well, that's a funny question! But I what I ended up doing was when I was in undergrad, I had a degree that I was pursuing. A Bachelors of Science in psychology and a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy. And I decided to pursue philosophy over psychology only because I knew that philosophy would provide me more ability to maneuver around various interests that I had. In other words, I didn't have to specialize so quickly, but I was interested in that intersection between philosophy and psychology.

And so when I become became a PhD student, I once again pursued the intersection between philosophy and psychology. Philosophy of mind in particular. And when I was studying philosophy of mind, I happened upon in some of my graduate coursework, which we were all required to take ethics courses. And those of us who were in philosophy of mind often thought of taking of these ethics courses with contempt, sort of like, oh, why do I have to take this class? And I think a lot of students feel that way when they are required to take ethics courses.

But I found a book written by Christine Korsgaard on metaethics and on her view, which is constructivism. People construct ethics based on their personalities and on their identities as individuals. And to me this was a way of combining psychology and ethics. And that changed my direction very, very quickly. And I've been a neo Kantian metaethical constructivist since then.

Myles: Real quick, can you define what a Neo Kantian is for the listeners who might not know?

Heather: So “Neo” means “new” and a “Kantian” takes after the work of Immanuel Kant. Who was a possibly the greatest thinker, the greatest philosophical thinker ever. And he wrote 3 gigantic, you know, Magnum opuses that are just truly works of integrating all of the philosophical knowledge and various viewpoints that people had at that time period.

He was caught between two different kinds of philosophies people who were realist in their conceptions of philosophy, you know, there's a real world out there, we're not stuck in our minds. And people who were subjectivists who did think, you know, we are all stuck in our minds. People who were rationalists who valued knowledge of logic and mathematics. And people who were empiricists, who value knowledge that we get from our everyday senses all around us.

And so being stuck between these various schools of thought, he realized that our experiences, and that everything that defines us, is not something that we can ever prove. There is not, there's really nothing out there objectively in the world, we can say: well, this is the truth, and stop. You know, that's it. That's the end of the story.

But that we could do better than just saying truth is subjective, all truth is just dependent on your own personal view. Instead, we can really look at the way that our minds function, and the way that we as people function. And we could find this structure behind how we function and how our minds function that enable us to form a collective truth.

And this kind of collective truth, which is sometimes called transcendental realism, is really the basis for much if not, in my view, as a neo-Kantian, most of philosophy today.

Myles: One of the other things that your work focuses on is the intersection between ethics and business. So my question to you is why is ethics particularly important for marketers?

Heather: I think I'm going to take a step back for this question.

Myles: Go ahead.

Heather: So I've been teaching business ethics since two thousand...three. 2003. I have to double take when I say that. Wow, that's been a long time.

So I started teaching at University of California, Santa Barbara. And then I taught in Alabama and now I'm in Massachusetts. The one thing that I have found to be very instrumental in teaching business ethics is teaching based on the case method. Students will look at a particular ethical controversy in my class. They look at a contemporary ethical controversy. They gather up all the facts. And then they analyze that ethical controversy according to four ethical theory standpoints. And then they develop an action plan.

Because my belief is that every person, just like every business, encounters problems. We are all going to encounter, you know, instances where there is one, that there is harm. But how do we deal with those problems? And that's where I believe that a business has an opportunity to shine. So if I can help create more focus on looking at these ethical issues from multiple perspectives, and helping people to resolve the differences by combining ethics and profitability, then I think that we'll have a better world. One that respects everyone, which is what I think ethics is really all about.

How do we respect everyone? When we're looking at marketing ethics, a lot of times people think of marketing as just advertising. It's the commercial you see. It's the podcast, right? It's the blog. But that's not all marketing is. Marketing ethics goes to the very heart of a product. Product placement, pricing. All of these things are marketing issues. In our daily world, it's not as if we're just being accosted by a bunch of advertisements. The very products that are on our shelves, the pricing of them, and where they occur in our world, is all a part of marketing.

And so there's so many opportunities for people to have better lives. The development of effective environmental products that are going to help people out of genuine issues that they have. Or harm people by, for example, creating desires and people to live up to an unachievable goal. And I think that particularly guilty is the dieting industry here. So I believe that through focusing on products that will really help people. Pricing them in ways that will allow profit but avoid exploitation, and placing them in areas where, once again, we don't exploit populations, but we rather aim to help them we can completely and utterly transform the world around us.

Myles: So you run a blog called Business Ethics Case Analyses. What's the story behind that? What's going on there?

Heather: So this blog I founded in 2013. And I founded it for my students to showcase their final projects. Which are, generally speaking, 10 to 20 page research projects where they research a contemporary ethical controversy and examine it from all four ethical theory standpoints and then try to problem solve for the company in order to help the company to rebound ethically and also increase their profits.

Myles: And what are those four ethical standpoints that you have students analyze an issue from?

Heather: Those are individualism, which was founded by Milton Friedman and can be seen as a similar in a lot of ways to Adam Smith’s view and other views that are sort of a of a neoclassical economics bent. Utilitarianism, which indicates that the ethical choice is the one among the alternatives that will increase the net benefit or good or happiness of the population. Kantianism, which is a deontological or rule based theory, which prioritizes respecting all people and their decisions. And therefore indicates that we shouldn't lie or exploit people. And then finally, virtue theory, which hearkens back to Aristotle, and says that it's not the focus of ethics to examine actions predominantly, but people, and that people can have various character traits that are virtuous or vicious, and that we should try to become better people.

Myles: Why those four out of all the various ethical frameworks available?

Heather: Because these four ethical views really recreate the ethical views that almost everybody has. And they are all consistent. They're all plausible. And generally speaking, they're all alive and well in the discussions on ethics today.

So you'll see some philosophers who are virtue ethicists and will argue from that perspective. And you also still see philosophers who are individualists, and prize in economic theory in business. One of the things that I tell my students, I start off with telling them, is that in the world it's not our job to make everybody agree with our view. But it is our job to try to understand other people.

And I think that as an effective businessperson, in whatever business you're in, people really...We're going to be interacting with people that are very different than we are. Everybody comes from a different socioeconomic background, different family, different struggles, different triumphs, different interests, different hobbies. We all come from these different backgrounds. And we have different conceptions of what is ethically right to do.

Now we can just spin our wheels trying to argue with people and say my ethical theory is the best ethical theory and your ethical theory is wrong. When you get down to it, you don't really know that your ethical theory is the right ethical theory, and their ethical theory is wrong. And the best that we can really do is to bring together all of the best ethical theories that there are that represent the multiplicity of people that are out there, and examine our issues from all of those perspectives.

And that's going to enable us to not only foster understanding and respect with our peers, but it will also enable us to problem solve better. Because if you have a staff that is divided politically, socially, on their philosophical visions, on their ethical visions. If you're capable of taking all of their perspectives into account and understanding them from those perspectives, then you're able to lower people’s defenses and start to constructively come up with solutions to the problems that we really do deal with in our lives.

Myles: That's very interesting. So there is a way in which the ability to work with and articulate multiple ethical perspectives on a given issue is a problem solving tool. It can be very useful when speaking to others and working with others.

Heather: That's absolutely what I think.

Myles: One of the entries on this blog, something one of your students put together, is an analysis of a commercial put out by electric car company Nikola. This commercial aired in 2020 and there was a bit of a controversy around it. If you don't mind, could you tell us the story of that commercial and share with us some of the ethical insights that your student had as they were running through these four ethical frameworks?

Heather: Yes, absolutely. So this commercial is really interesting because what's happening with Nikola is that they want to create semi trucks that are electrical vehicles. Which is a really incredible vision and could help many many people. Our environment, our businesses, our reliance on oil companies.

But they hadn't quite perfected their vehicle yet. In fact, they were years away from perfecting their vehicle, to the point where they just recently delivered their first vehicles. I believe they have 11 semis now, that were delivered a little bit earlier this year.

But they wanted to drum up business for the company, publicize the company. And that's something that I think we can all understand. In doing so, what they did was they put out a commercial for the Nikola One. Nikola One wasn't a self-propelled vehicle. It was kind of just a show vehicle. They would give people tours of the vehicle, for example, when they wanted to ask for investors.

But in the commercial, what they did was they took the vehicle. They placed it on a hill. And they rolled it down the hill! And then filmed it as if it were driving along the highway.

So it did in fact drum up a lot of business for Nikola. And they put out another commercial for the Nikola Two, that was a self-propelled propelled vehicle, even before the controversy really struck. The controversy occurred because somebody in the company went outside the company to reveal some of the problems. Specifically, the lies that Nicola was telling in order to drum up business.

What ended up occurring is that within just a couple of months of the company going public, in June 2020, their lies, not just the commercial but also about a battery that they were developing but hadn't developed yet, and other sorts of lies that they were telling, came out and really destroyed the company. Because the company was no longer trustworthy.

So a lot of their business deals that they had made with other companies started going south. Their shares, which started at $34 in June, and bounced up dramatically just in a month period, completely tanked. And even today, you know, this is like two years later, Nikola survived as a company. But even today when I looked at the recent selling price on the stock sits under $6 a share today. So they were hit very profoundly with this controversy. All because they were trying to sell a dream instead of selling a reality.

Myles: And what do those four ethical frameworks, utilitarianism, Kantianism, individualism, and virtue theory have to say about this situation? Do they agree with each other, or is there something a little bit more complex going on?

Heather: I think that's a little bit more complex. So in this particular case we can see that Nikola as a company even today has Successfully engineered vehicles that are electric semis. So they wanted to do something that could benefit humanity. So you can think about this under a utilitarian view and see how many people could possibly be benefited by this sort of an action. Many, many people could be benefited. And in fact, it still stands to reason that many people could be benefited from this.

So in some sense, in the short and the long term, we consider everybody’s well-being. The company may have reasoned, now if we're not found out, and we actually are developing these batteries, developing these vehicles, if we're successful, if we raise enough money that we're able to actually produce these vehicles that we've imagined, that we know we can, that we have engineering for, then we can make this a reality. And a reality that can benefit many, many people. So under utilitarian framework, we could reason that this was ethical.

From an individualist framework, which looks at the company’s profits, we can see that in the short term they thought that they were increasing their profits. But in the long term it didn't increase the profits because their investors and their partners decided that they weren't trustworthy enough after the lies exposed them. So sometimes it can certainly be the case that you think that you're doing something that is worthwhile for your company in the short term, but you end up burning bridges and harming your reputation. Almost irreparably. And you end up cutting your foot off.

Under an individualist standpoint, which even Milton Friedman would say that we still need to function within the rules of the game. Even under Friedman standpoint, what the company did was wrong. They were reported for three counts of fraud. And they could have avoided this by, for example, showing the commercial, and then putting in small print even, right, this is not a self-propelled vehicle, this is a product of our imagination that we're currently designing. They could have avoided that.

On the road show, the then CEO Trevor Milton had an interview. In in that interview where he talks about the electric trucks that he's developing, he says that it is fully functioning and he says that multiple times in the interview. And he explicitly says that it is not a pusher. And by a pusher he means it's not a vehicle that you just push and that it looks like it's going. This is in 2016. And all along, while he's saying that it's a fully functioning vehicle and that it's not a pusher, we know very well that he was lying, And that he did in fact push the vehicle. Right. If not himself, he hired people to push it down the hill.

The amount of lies that he's telling and the quality of the lies was certainly harmful to his business and he ended up stepping down from the company, just 3 1/2 months after it went public in September of 2021, after he realized that the lies that he had told were destroying the dream and his company.

Now if we look at it from a Kantian perspective, it gets a lot simpler. Because under a Kantian perspective, you have to respect everybody and you can't lie. And that means that way back in 2016 when he did this interview, he was already acting seriously unethically. You don't have to examine the consequences. You don't have to look at the revenue or the stock prices. You don't have to examine you know how many electric vehicles could potentially reduce emissions 20 years down the road. All you have to do is start off with that one lie and that one lie...You're already in trouble because you're not respecting people.

Under Kant's view, and under my view we should be transparent. So we should just sit down with people and say Hey, this is actually what's happening. I have this dream for a vehicle. We have this kind of engineering. I would love to give you a tour of this. We haven't quite gotten there yet, but this is in the works. And based on the merits of the conversations and the merits of the product. That's when people should be investing and developing the product. Until, you know, today and just a couple of months ago the first products were launched.

Myles: And what about virtue theory? How does that apply in this situation?

Heather: Right. So virtue theory is a little bit complex because it's examining the person. And according to Aristotle, you know, virtues were good making features. They're the kinds of features that enable us to flourish or to fully function given our environment. And so different kinds of environments allow us to function in different ways. In our current environment, we know that the lies that Trevor Milton told didn't enable his functioning, didn't enable him to flourish. And so we can see that in our environment this was a bad choice.

And that if we look at virtues specifically, such as courageousness, honesty, temperance, justice, although he was certainly courageous in this vision, he wasn't honest. He wasn't temperate. And he wasn't just because the stockholders, the investors and the companies that were partnering with him didn't have knowledge of what the actual standpoint was, the actual progress was in these electric vehicles.

You can lack a couple of virtues and maybe still be a virtuous person, and that's debatable. Because some people believe that you actually have to have all the virtues. Could you imagine? To be completely and utterly virtuous...but other people say, you know, you could lack a couple of virtues, but by and large you should have most of the virtues if you're going to be a virtuous person. In this instance he certainly lacked more virtues than what he had.

Myles: As you have just described this case, it's maybe not as cut and dry as we all remember when we were watching the highlights on in our Twitter feeds or on the nightly news, whenever we found out that Nikola had been lying to us the whole time. There were...certainly the balance of ethical frameworks tends to be against the approach that they took, but there are gray areas there. My original question reads how should marketers choose which ethical theory to apply in a given situation? But based on our conversation, I think I'll tweak that to say how should marketers approach ethical decision making when there are so many frameworks to work with. Do we pick one and stick fast to it no matter what? Do we abandon ethics entirely and just go with our gut in any particular situation? How do we work with, how do we play with all of these different options when there are so many of them on the table in front of us?

Heather: Good question. So on my view what we need to do is take a step back when we're making decisions, especially decisions that are going to affect a lot of people. And businesses. Customers, partners. We need to take a step back and we need to ask ourselves, what am I doing? Why am I doing it? What are the alternatives?

I think that the desire to succeed often times makes people short sighted about what they're doing. And they're not really fully reflective individuals. And a lot of businesses today and a lot of the business controversies that I've seen in my almost 20 years of teaching business ethics, many of them could be easily avoided just by asking: In the long term, is this going to be good for me, my company? Is this going to reflect well On who I am as a person? And if we take a long view of things, we give ourselves permission to reflect, to stand back, to examine these kinds of things and to examine all the ethical theory perspectives and try to launch a debate with ourselves. No, because it really is about do we approve of ourselves.

People might say. They're only focused on success. Like a business person might say, I'm only focused on success. Of course, this is this is the only thing that's important to me. But that's just not the way human psychology works. Success is something that is not prized in and of itself for itself. It’s a way to get something else. Why do we want to be successful? We have to ask ourselves those kinds of questions. If we want to be successful because we want to be admired. Now that might be a superficial way of looking at things. But as soon as we step back and we say I want to be admired and that's the reason why I want to be a success, are people going to admire you for lying?

Right? Or you know you want to be able to provide for your family. When you ask yourself, well, what would happen if I was found out for lying? I would put myself and my family in jeopardy. And so in my view I don't necessarily think that everybody needs to be thinking about everybody else’s well-being above their own. I don't think that we need that high of a call in order to be ethical. I think that we could dodge most problems just by asking about ourselves and the reasons why we do certain things. I'm having that little debate, that little discussion with ourselves about why we're doing what we're doing and whether we are going to be self defeating. I don't think that's going to solve all of our problems. I think it'll solve a good portion.

Myles: That's nice. That's a useful heuristic. Nikola puts out this commercial. The truth is uncovered. There is no fine print at the bottom. They're in a pickle. How can an organization come back from an ethical violation? How to regain how do you regain trust with people? Is it even possible?

Heather: I think it is possible. I think that businesses for at least the past 100 years have been showing how it's possible. You go back to the Johnson and Johnson case. In the 1970s where they found arsenic in Tylenol. That was a defining moment for Tylenol as a company for Johnson and Johnson as a company. But it was also a defining moment for how to react to business controversies.

Because what Tylenol could have done? What Johnson and Johnson could have done is they could have just denied responsibility immediately. And that's what, a lot of businesses do these days. They just say I'm going to deny responsibility, I'm going to pretend like it didn't happen. And I'm going to deal with the aftermath later, when I've already made more profit for today. If people can even catch me. But rather than doing that, they said we are going to recall all the bottles of Tylenol on all the store shelves, until we can figure out what went wrong. They were prioritizing the safety of customers over their profits.

And I think whenever a company prioritizes the safety of other people over their profits, they automatically earn gold stars. Because people think: You know, they actually care about me. They're not just denying. They're caring about my welfare, my safety.

They recalled all the products, launched an investigation, and the fact of the matter is that it wasn't Tylenol's fault. It wasn't arsenic that had been placed in the Tylenol tablets through contamination or factory issues. They'd been externally tampered with. And yet Tylenol still didn't back down. They still didn't say there's nothing we can do about it. I guess, you know, we're just all going to be infected with arsenic whenever anybody wants to tamper with your medical prescriptions or your pills or whatnot, right? They didn't. They did not back down. Instead, they developed the tamper proof bottle. Then they offered people coupons to purchase Tylenol.

So it seems like in the short run, what they did was hazardous to their profit. But behind the scenes they were maneuvering for a long term strategy. Johnson and Johnson is still one of the most well regarded companies, despite the fact that Johnson and Johnson has had some ethical controversies within the past 20 years that have been significant ethical controversies. Their performance way back in the 1970s has helped to propel them and keep their reputation solid as caring for their customers.

And I think that's the kind of thing that a company can do. Take responsibility trying to figure out what went wrong. Try to solve the problem even if it's not their responsibility to solve. They needed to find a way to help people to trust buying medicine again. And they did. They found it.

Myles: What research are you most excited about in the near future?

Heather: I'm involved in a project to spearhead a new area of philosophy. In that new area philosophy we call the philosophy of spirituality. And so we all know that we live in a world in which many people are now claiming to be spiritual, not religious. And so I am my co-founder, Rod Nichols, envision the philosophy of spirituality as taking the place of philosophy of religion in the near future.

The philosophy of religion deals with questions about, you know, whether there's a God, how we could ever prove something like that, religious experience, and then different kinds of religions. But it leaves out questions about spirituality. Questions where maybe atheism and theism can both take a perspective that is, a spiritual perspective. We can have a spiritual discussion about our purchases, for example. Or businesses. Things like that. And therefore move philosophy into an area where we're not just talking about ethics, we're not just talking about obligations that we have to each other. But we're talking about really how we impact and contribute to each other's well-being in a very, very deep and significant way.

I have one book out, that is The Philosophy of Spirituality, which I co-edited with Rod Nichols and which has contributions from African philosophy, Native American philosophy, I write something about yoga philosophy in there. And then we are working on a volume right now called Mind Over Matter. In the Philosophy of Spirituality we discuss multiple perspectives of what it means to be spiritual without the confines of religion. And we have both pro and con spiritual essays within that. In Mind Over Matter, which is the new book that we're editing, we focus on the ways in which faith and spirituality affect the human dimension of achievement. So can we achieve more if we take a spiritual stance?

Myles: What would you tell young marketers about marketing ethics, some kids just coming out of college, for instance, or getting their first job or an internship there, pondering how do I do this work in an ethical way? What advice would you give them?

Heather: I think the best advice to give a young marketer would be to never lose sight of who you are as a person, and what you truly want out of life. What's the reason why you...Why do you wake up in the morning. Try not to get sidetracked by the fast-paced world which we're surrounded by. Slow down enough to be able to examine whether what you're currently doing is representing who you are. Whether it's really propelling you towards the person that you truly want to be.

Myles: That's wonderful, Heather. Thank you so much for your time here today. This has been a privilege and we really appreciate all the insights you've shared.

Heather: Thank you Myles, I appreciate it.

Today, Nikola is slowly recovering from the breach of trust that nearly cratered the company two years ago. In December 2021, the company reached a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over claims of fraud. That same month, Nikola shipped its first two battery electric vehicles, or BEVs, 4 years after releasing the fake truck promo to the public. The company has managed to survive, but it still has a long way to go before it can win back stakeholders’ trust.

As we try to think ethically about our marketing strategies, we can sometimes run into more questions than answers. It can be hard enough to do the right thing in simple situations, but how do we move forward when we aren't even sure what the right thing is? When several options seem more or less ethical for different reasons? What do we do when we find ourselves in uncomfortable gray areas?

While it won't solve every issue, taking a moment to pause and reflect can improve our ethical decision making. As Heather suggests, we can ask ourselves, how might these options play out over the long term? Answering that question might have saved Nikola some embarrassment, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars. And it can offer us the opportunity to make ethical choices that help us become our best selves.

This has been the Free Ranger. Thanks for listening.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to subscribe, and share it with someone else who'd like it too. The Free Ranger is a production of Free Range Studios, a storytelling and innovation agency helping mission driven organizations promote social good. If you'd like to learn more, please visit us at FreeRange.com.