What is Ethical Marketing and Why Brands Need It

Have you ever been to a fast food joint where you ordered their new heavily-promoted limited-time burger that looked amazing on the banner outside – the juicy patty, melting cheese, and crispy bacon were breathtaking. The sandwich looked so big you thought of splitting it with your spouse – only to be disappointed when it arrived and you found out that it’s a flat dry sandwich with hardly enough condiments on it, let alone meat?

Guess you missed the fine print that read “for illustration purposes only”, huh?

I’m sure you’ve been there. We’ve all been there.

We are, in many ways, unknowingly surrounded by different practices of unethical marketing.

Sometimes the promise of short-term results can even make it tempting for you to try something like buying followers, faking reviews, or intentionally being manipulative in your advertising. It may yield results today, but in the long run, your brand will suffer.

Potential customers could easily spot insincere ads, fake reviews, and spam. And despite the short-term surge in profit these tactics could bring, they often tend to have a long-term negative effect on your brand’s authenticity. Customers would associate your brand with those ideas.

Morally speaking, being dishonest with people, manipulating customers, or exaggerating claims about your product is just wrong. You don’t want to be that guy.

We can avoid falling into these dirty marketing schemes by identifying what is ethical.

I. What is Ethical Marketing

Because what is morally right or wrong is subjective, ethical marketing can be hard to confine within the limits of a single definition. In other words, ethical marketing is essentially a philosophy. 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.

This philosophy is simple: be honest, responsible, and fair in all your marketing efforts.

  • Be honest in your advertising – don’t exaggerate claims about your product or service (being the best is subjective).
  • Be responsible in your advertising – don’t advertise to children or manipulate customers; make ads that promote values.
  • Be fair in your marketing – don’t defame or put down competitors just to climb up. Let the customers choose the product they prefer.

Some of the biggest brands in the world use ethical marketing to strengthen their brand and retain customer loyalty.

To bring the point back home, picture this…

Two new e-commerce platforms that offer sellers a space to advertise their products, and buyers a place to shop for all the products they need – a marketplace like Amazon.

Company A wants to own the biggest e-commerce platform and grow immensely. Their platform needs customers and sellers fast! They invest in AI technologies to monitor customer behavior, and then manipulate their behavior through app/website interface so customers are constantly being led to buying more products they don’t need.

McDonald’s used a portion of their profits from selling Big Macs to help kids with cancer. Long rival Burger King joined the cause.

Company B on the other hand, wants to create a trusted marketplace where buyers and sellers can connect and find the best deals. A fair trade satisfying all parties equally. They invest their marketing budget on publications and resources for buyers and sellers, and conduct business training sessions for people in rural areas. These trainees would then become sellers on the platform and make money too.

Now, if you as a buyer, found the same shirt for the same price on both of these platforms, which platform would you choose to buy it from? And which platform would you recommend to your friends and family? Company A that subconsciously tricks your loved ones into buying products they don’t need, or Company B, that is honest and is creating better opportunities for the community?

See, ethical marketing creates a ripple effect. And those ripples grow bigger and bigger over time.

Ethical marketing creates a ripple effect that grows over time.

Examples of Ethical Marketing

Unethical Marketing Examples:

  • Exaggerated and false claims.
  • Advertising to children.
  • Exploiting viewers.
  • Faking morals (AKA Greenwashing).
  • Manipulative promotions.
  • Spamming.
  • Buying reviews.
  • Plagiarizing content.

Ethical Marketing Examples:

  • Fact-based product claims.
  • Sponsoring children shows.
  • Empathizing with viewers.
  • Promoting values.
  • Honest promotions.
  • Mindful engagement.
  • Sponsoring a cause.
  • Free tutorials and lessons.

II. Using Ethical Marketing to Grow Your Brand

With a vague definition of what is considered ethical, incorporating this philosophy into your marketing efforts can be tricky. A good starting point, however, is your brand. First, find your vision; what your business aspires to achieve; how is it impacting the world positively?

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?

Why does your brand exist?

Sharing your vision with customers

    • Be authentic

      What causes and values do you genuinely care about? Make sure your brand clearly reflects those values. Don’t fake morals or promote values you don’t believe in. Not practicing what you preach is a recipe for disaster.

    • Be consistent

      Attach your vision – and the idea of ethical marketing – to every marketing tactic you’re employing. Don’t use ethical marketing for one or two marketing campaigns to test the water. Go all the way, with every campaign.

    • Be patient

      It can take time for some causes to be noticed. Not everyone sees the world through your eyes, but some people will. Those are your loyal customers.

    • Collaborate

      Sponsor events for non-profits and charitable organizations, or donate your product or service to communities that need it. Work with like-minded competitors who believe in your vision.

    • Get creative

      Ethical marketing includes everything from benefit concerts and fundraisers to flash mobs (remember those?). Get creative with your marketing. Because you’re promoting a noble cause, a lot can be forgiven if you’ve made a mistake. It’s okay to be quirky. It’s okay to get personal. You are expected to be genuine after all.

III. Is Ethical Marketing Effective?

Although ethical marketing is widely practiced by corporations around the world, the subject is still not advocated for enough by marketers and entrepreneurs on the internet. However, with social responsibility being at the center of attention in today’s world, I foresee more businesses undergoing the transformation toward ethical marketing.

In most instances, ethical marketing is effective. It gives you the opportunity to not only market your product, but also build your brand along the way, form strong partnerships, and even save money on your marketing budget.

If you’re a startup or a small business, now is the time to start adopting this philosophy to reap the long-term benefits.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series where we’ll be discussing different ideas for ethical marketing and how you could leverage them for your business.

What do you think of ethical marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments and feel free to ask any questions!

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