Ethical Marketing Definition, Examples & Benefits for Businesses

Although the term ‘ethical marketing’ isn’t widely spoken about, it’s a highly rewarding philosophy that many successful brands adopt.

It is not a gimmick. But it may just be the most certain strategy to guarantee positive results under any circumstance.

A paragliding wing stretched across a big body of water. The superimposed title reads: What is Ethical Marketing - Definition, Examples, and Benefits. The highly rewarding philosophy that most people don't talk about.

What is Ethical Marketing and How it Benefits Small Businesses


Why Most People Don’t Talk About Ethical Marketing

For starters, despite the drastic changes in marketing since digitalization, many businesses still view marketing as a way to get their product or brand name out in front of as many people as possible in the hopes of getting attention and making some sales.

What many business owners fail to realize is that making noise might have worked for already established big corporations in the past, but in today’s overcrowded digital world, the noise gets easily muffled and overlooked.

If you want your brand to stand out, you need to do more.

You need to look beyond design and image and think of the consequences of your marketing.

How do people feel about your business?

Although disturbing people, spamming and manipulating are socially frowned upon, many small businesses fall prey to these brand-damaging tactics.

Many people are still skeptical about the positive effects of marketing ethically and consciously.

Apart from skepticism, some of the other reasons ethical marketing is not widely practiced:


Most people feel more comfortable repeating existing trending methods – even if these methods aren’t bringing them good results – over experimenting with something different.


Many businesses lack the patience and the learning and practicing time that it requires.

Small businesses focus on short-term goals; fast marketing for fast profits.

And rightfully so, what with the cost of everything increasing!

But that’s also why looking at the bigger picture and having a long-term vision isn’t a priority for small businesses.


Using ethical marketing simply as a marketing tactic to win over customers through greenwashing could backfire.

For example, when a brand known for selling questionable products advocates for social causes; people get skeptical about the brand’s intentions.

People see right through the ploy. And consequently, the brand loses people’s trust.

On the other hand, if done right, marketing your business ethically and consciously grows your brand and attracts customers who will remain loyal.

It’s a route worth exploring if you want to establish a strong brand, build a sustainable business, and maybe make the world a slightly better place.

Related: A Better Way to Market Your Business Online

The Definition of Ethical Marketing

Ethical marketing is the practice of applying ethical principles in the marketing of a business or an organization.

Simply put, it’s being honest, fair, and responsible in all areas of your marketing.

It’s about minimizing the risks associated with delivering your product to consumers and maximizing the benefits.

It doesn’t focus on bringing fast profits at any cost but rather focuses on purpose, value, and earning people’s trust first. It’s about giving before receiving.

Ethical marketing shouldn’t disrupt or interrupt life; it should flow with it.

So, for instance, instead of making loud attention-seeking advertising campaigns that manipulate customers into buying your products, you focus on communicating your brand’s values and promoting your products with honesty and integrity.

You demonstrate to your target market how good your brand and your products are without exaggeration, and you earn customers’ trust without trickery.

Related: How Your Business Can Make an Impact on Society

Ethical Marketing Examples:
Mindful Social Engagement, Sponsoring a Cause/Charity, Producing Documentaries, Tutorials and Lessons, Purpose-Driven Content, Hosting Fundraisers, Promoting Your Brand's Values, Empathizing with Your Audience, Supporting Art & Music, Fact-Based Claims, Honest Promotions, Displaying Real Reviews.

Examples of Ethical Marketing

To give you a better understanding, let’s look at some examples of ethical practices in marketing and their unethical counterparts.

Ethical Marketing Examples:

  • Fact-based product claims.
  • Sponsoring children’s shows.
  • Empathizing with the audience.
  • Promoting values.
  • Honest promotions.
  • Mindful social engagement.
  • Sponsoring a cause/charity.
  • Earning reviews.
  • Free tutorials and lessons.

Unethical Marketing Examples:

  • Exaggerated and false claims.
  • Advertising toys in children’s shows.
  • Exploiting the audience.
  • Faking morals (AKA Greenwashing).
  • Manipulative promotions.
  • Spamming.
  • Posing for photos at a cause.
  • Buying reviews.
  • Plagiarizing content.

Would you buy from a brand that uses any of these unethical marketing tactics?

You’d probably be turned off.

But sadly, many businesses fall into these unethical practices unwillingly.

Hiring the wrong marketing agency and blindly adopting fast sales tactics are often the culprits.

Just because a certain tactic worked for another company doesn’t mean that it’s the right one for your business, or that it’s right at all.

Although some of these sleazy tactics might get you an instant spike in followers or overnight profit, that won’t last long.

In the long run, these tactics won’t contribute to the success of your business nor to the growth of your brand.

Risking your brand’s reputation for short gains is not worth it.

On the Internet, things spread fast and stay online for a long time.

Recovering from a bad campaign can cost you a lot of time and money.

So, it’s important to always be mindful of the long-term implications on your business.

A hand reaching out for another against a light pink backdrop. Superimposed text reads "Ethical marketing helps  you connect with your audience and gain loyal customers".

On the flip side, ethical marketing helps you connect with your audience, gain customer loyalty, and reap the benefits for a long time.

We’ll get into more details and ideas on how you can start marketing your business ethically.

But first, let’s look at some of the benefits from a business standpoint.

Key Benefits of Ethical Marketing

You want your business to make a positive impact on society, but you can’t do it if you’re not profiting. You don’t want to waste your money on tactics that don’t work either.

So, is practicing ethical marketing worth it for your business? Would it help you increase sales?

The answer is a resounding yes!

It’s a practice that over time makes you a better person. What better long-term value do you need?

Here’s what Xiaofeng Wang, a Senior Analyst at Forrester has to say:

Now more than ever do people want authenticity and integrity from brands they buy from.

The world’s full of corrupt politicians and dirty businessmen. We don’t need more of those.

Consumers want to steer clear of unethical businesses as much as they can.

Practicing ethical marketing in your business will not only attract loyal customers now but will also prepare your business for future growth and success.

1. Building Brand Equity

When you think of fast food, what brands come to mind? Probably McDonald’s on top of the list, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

People also tend to associate these brands with low-quality, greasy, and unhealthy food.

Yes, a lot of people enjoy them, but that’s what these brands represent in consumers’ minds.

What do you want your brand to represent in people’s minds?

Every piece of marketing you put out will determine this.

The more honest you are with your marketing the more likely people are going to trust your brand and what you’re selling.

Think of your business as a person. People don’t believe someone who goes around boasting about how good he/she is, and how skilled or perfect they are.

It’s the person’s actions and principles that drive others to attest to their qualities.

Likewise, your work and marketing ethics drive consumers to attest to your brand’s best qualities.

2. Reducing Marketing Costs

How likely are you to reshare a product’s ad on your social media profiles for free? And how likely are you to post about a cause, a valuable message, or a product that brings you value?

When people feel connected to your brand and its values, they take pride in their association with it.

They are eager to share and recommend your offering with their peers.

And your brand becomes an honorable badge to wear as a sign of belonging to the tribe.

This free advocacy for your brand can lower your marketing and customer acquisition costs.

3. Seamless Marketing

Marketing can be challenging if you’re constantly trying every ploy that exists (multiple website pop-ups, click baits, exaggerated claims, etc.) thinking that you would influence (or trick) people into buying your products.

Your marketing message would be all over the place; making it harder for people to understand your brand and relate to it.

In contrast, marketing with honesty and ethical values give consumers a clear understanding of what your brand represents and why they should choose your products over your competitors’ products.

At the same time, it gives you a clear direction on how you should market your product; which tactics to nurture, and which ones to avoid.

And because you’re not overselling your product or trying to outdo competitors, you can simply be your authentic self.

By formulating clear guidelines of your vision and your brand’s ethics and values, marketing and communicating with your target market becomes effortless.

4. Increasing Brand Trust

When you’re honest and open with your communication with customers, they will begin to trust your brand and associate it with the noble values it represents.

Over time, you won’t need to defend your position whenever you make changes to your product, service, or policies.

Your customers will trust that you have their interest first.

And just like Apple fans, your customers will be the ones defending your brand and advocating for it.

Getting Started with Ethical Marketing

In its essence, ethical marketing is an easy concept to understand.

But because what is morally right or wrong is subjective, it can be a little harder to apply.

It’s not a strategy that you employ once or twice to win people over, but values that influence all your marketing decisions.

It’s what your brand represents.

And as mentioned above, running one or two ethical campaigns while selling a product or a service that goes against common morals could harm your brand.

People will see right through it.

Therefore, to start marketing your business ethically you need to be conscious about every decision you make.

Whether it’s your brand’s values, your product, your working culture, or your affiliations. You should carefully think through every aspect of your business and examine its authenticity.

If you’re going to tell people that your brand is socially responsible, then you ought to mean it!

An illustration by Khalid Al-Aydeross of two people's silhouettes facing away from one another. Two large eyes, blue and green, are seen through the silhouettes.
Illustration by Khalid Al-Aydeross

Set the Right Intentions

Embracing an ethical marketing approach brings a wide range of possibilities and opportunities to every aspect of your business.

But before you start rewriting your brand guidelines and sending them out to your colleagues, you should start with yourself and your brand’s values.

If you want to change the world, start with yourself.

Mahatma Ghandi

Change doesn’t come from actions alone.

Decisions influence actions.

And to follow through with a decision, we need to set long-term intentions.

If your intention is to merely greenwash your marketing and communications because doing good is trending, you won’t see the true value in marketing your business ethically, and it will be a struggle to keep up.

Ask yourself:

  • What are my personal values and beliefs?
  • What’s more important to me: bigger profits or better values?
  • Do I practice what I preach and live by my values?
  • Am I willing to turn down opportunities that don’t align with my values?
  • Would I always choose honesty over puffery even if I don’t get what I want?

The answers to these questions will help you gain some insights into the direction that you should be taking with your business.

Close up of a man's hands writing on a tablet. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Assess Your Business

Once you’ve set the intention to market your brand ethically, you can start having honest conversations with yourself and your team about how your business and products are affecting the world.

Think about the reasons why your business exists, beyond making money.

How are you contributing to society? Are you providing people with cleaner water, for instance? Giving consumers better quality fresh food? How is your marketing impacting the world positively?

A few topics to discuss:

  • What are your brand’s vision and values?
  • Does your business practice these values?
  • How are your products affecting consumers?
  • What’s the effect of your media and communication on viewers?
  • Are the claims in your marketing and packaging 100% true?
  • How do you treat customers, staff, and suppliers?
  • What’s your company’s culture like?

Remember that every aspect of your business plays a role in how your brand and products are presented to the market.

So before you start applying ethical principles to your external marketing, make sure you’ve applied them internally, within your organization.

Read more articles about ethical marketing


Send us a message if you have any questions or inquiries. We’re happy to help!

Or if you’re interested in marketing your brand ethically, you can get a free assessment of your business and marketing.

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