Multi-stakeholder Knowledge Sharing and Brand Co-creation: Ethical Considerations

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsResearch


Brands have evolved from a product-centric approach to a new perspective where multiple stakeholders interact and form relationships to co-create various aspects of brands (e.g., new products and/or services, value, meaning or identity) (Gyrd-Jones & Kornum, 2013; Ind et al., 2017; von Wallpach et al., 2017). From this perspective, co-creation is a social and dynamic process in which various stakeholders share knowledge to co-create relevant brand innovations in a conversational space (Iglesias et al. 2013; Ind et al., 2017). The current hyper-connectivity among multiple brand stakeholders and the ever increasing transparency of brand environments facilitates such multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing. A brand’s ability to identify and value both external (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990) and internal knowledge (Foss, Laursen, & Petersen, 2011) has an important role in ensuring the success of co-creation (Todorova & Durisin, 2007). However, besides increasing the potential for innovation, multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing in the context of brand co-creation processes also gives rise to ethical concerns (Lindfelt & Törnroos 2006). Although several scholars have acknowledged that ethicality ought to be at the core of every brand (Markovic et al. 2015), there is a dearth of research in brands and ethics (Iglesias et al., 2017). Ethicality should especially be a concern for those brands that recurrently involve external stakeholders (e.g., customers, distributors, suppliers) in co-creation processes, due to the mutual dependency that interactions and relationships imply (Williams & Aitken, 2011). However, there is also scant research at the intersection of the areas of business ethics and co-creation, most of which is conceptual (e.g., Lindfelt & Törnroos, 2006; Stanislawski, 2011; Williams & Aitken, 2011). Through a systematic literature review (Pittaway et al., 2004), this research aims to provide a foundation for studying ethical challenges of multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing in the context of brand co-creation processes. Preliminary findings indicate that the limited body of literature dealing with the intersection of co-creation and ethics predominantly takes a customer perspective. This literature allows identifying ethical principles that can also be relevant for multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing in the context of brand co-creation (Stanislawski, 2011): Trustworthiness, “including notions of honesty, integrity, reliability, and loyalty” (Schwartz, 2002, 29-30), is particularly relevant in the context of co-creation, which is characterized by interactive processes and “requires a high degree of transparency and openness regarding goals, activities, and processes” (Stanislawski, 2011, 117). Respect, “including notions of respect for human rights” (Schwartz, 2002, 29-30), requires actors involved in co-creation activities to consider such aspects as human dignity and autonomy (Abela & Murphy, 2008). This can, for instance, relate to rights of creative employees who work under precarious labor rights conditions since their creative input is “outsourced” to co-creators (Ross, 2006); as well as to the rights of co-creating consumers who are exploited as free labor (Herman et al., 2006) or deprived of their right of privacy (Stanislawski, 2011). Responsibility, “including notions of accountability” (Schwartz, 2002, 29-30), becomes a particularly hot topic in the context of co-creation, especially in relation to product safety: who is responsibly if a product that has been co-created fails or harms? Can non-professional co-creators be aware of risks and potentials of their co-creations—and can they be made accountable for unwanted consequences? 4 Fairness, “including notions of process, impartiality, and equity” (Schwartz, 2002, 29-30), concerns the need of not taking advantage of others in co-creation processes and the relevance of perceived fairness from the co-creators’ point of view (e.g., Ingram et al., 2005). Notions of “false consciousness” can be of relevance in this regard (Humphreys & Grayson, 2008, 976). Caring, “including notions of avoiding unnecessary harm” (Schwartz, 2002, 29-30) and the avoidance of exploitation or even double exploitation, “once when the object is produced and twice when it is sold back for a profit” (Humphreys & Grayson, 2008, 976). Citizenship “including notions of obeying laws and protecting the environment” (Schwartz, 2002, 29-30). Besides general social and legal obligations, intellectual property rights are of particular concern in the context of co-creation (Grimes, 2006). Establishing and maintaining ethical co-creation processes, which involve knowledge sharing amongst multiple stakeholders, can be perceived as major challenge for companies given that all involved stakeholders should ultimately achieve “actualized value” that “is subjective and varies as a function of individualized experiences” (Ramaswamy & Ozcan, 2014, 16). Future research ought to take the perspective of different involved stakeholders (a) by investigating how different stakeholders’ “perceived ethicality” of the process of co-creation can contribute to such actualized value—both for the stakeholder and the brand, and (b) by understanding brand management’s role in facilitating ethical multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing in the context of brand co-creation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the European Marketing Academy (EMAC) Conference 2018 : People Make Marketing
EditorsKathy Hamilton, Matthew Alexander, Spiros Gounaris, Maria Karampela, Ewelina Lacka
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationBrussels
PublisherEuropean Marketing Academy. EMAC
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventThe 47th EMAC Annual Conference 2018: People Make Marketing - University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 May 20181 Jun 2018
Conference number: 47


ConferenceThe 47th EMAC Annual Conference 2018
LocationUniversity of Strathclyde
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address
SeriesProceedings of the European Marketing Academy

Cite this