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Creating compelling brand experiences through ethical marketing

COVID-19 has accelerated the rise of the ‘conscious consumer’ — a person who spends money with a brand that supports their values. These consumers are making brands more aware of the importance of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. To meet the needs of the conscious consumer, brands need to embrace ethical marketing practices. 

Consumers are becoming increasingly values-based in their purchasing decisions. As this trajectory continues, companies demonstrating good ethics and sustainability will attract new customers and grow their position in the marketplace.

These consumers are very aware and will not tolerate claims of ecological responsibility that are not firmly backed up — a practice known as ‘greenwashing’. Consumers want brands to take a leadership position on sustainability and will hold them to account by making informed purchasing decisions.

Marketing can take a lot of forms, but as long as the main idea is passed appropriately and genuinely to the target audience, any method used can readily be described as ethical marketing. Done successfully, it enhances trust and customer loyalty as well as delivering long-term value to the brand. 

In the statement above,genuinely’ is the keyword. A lot of marketers and marketing firms have not prioritised it and this is no longer viable as consumers are increasingly valuing authenticity in marketing. According to a report by Stackla, 88% of consumers say authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support.

There is tough competition in the world of business, so every brand is using all the available means to attract more customers than their competitors. This could be the major reason why advertisements and other aspects of marketing are slowly losing the core feature of being genuine — which is bad for everyone involved.

As a business, organisation, or even an individual, the genuineness of marketing should be at the forefront of any marketing activity you undertake. This is because it is wrong in every way to lure unsuspecting customers into buying something that will not fill the need for which they purchased it.

It is not good for your personal brand, for your business as a whole, for the economy, or for your partners. Most importantly, it is harmful to your customers. 

What is ethical marketing? 

Ethical marketing is the incorporation of ethics into all forms of marketing that a business may take. Forrester defines ethical marketing as:

The process by which companies market their products and services by focusing not only on how their products benefit customers but also how they benefit socially responsible or environmental causes.

Most people think of marketing as just a strategy to get more buyers and subscribers, but ethical marketing is more than a strategy — it is a philosophy. You need to make sure that the content of your advertisements is honest and not sugar coated or exaggerated. 

In ethical marketing you show genuine care for your prospects and build a relationship with them via the values you share. 

The main difference between mere marketing and ethical marketing is that while the former advertises from a view of only profit, the latter advertises and carries out other marketing techniques based on both financial and moral points of view. 

Ethical activities in the field of marketing 

In marketing, especially in these days of digital marketing trends, here are some of the most obvious activities, which indicate that a marketing strategy is ethical:

  • Doing thorough research and attaching reliable sources of data to any design that will be published for the consumption of prospects.
  • Presenting advertising content that will be very beneficial to consumers due to the inclusion of attractive functionalities.
  • Using customer-friendly platforms that encourage transparency through reviews and comments.
  • Being open about what you expect to gain from your target market.
  • Offering discounts that you actually give when people earn them.
  • Building genuine relationships that can help your prospects with real life struggles.

What is unethical marketing?

In contrast to how ethical marketing uses morality and respect for prospects as the yardstick before carrying out any marketing activity, unethical marketing simply focuses on gaining more subscribers and attracting buyers, even at the expense of morality.

When a marketing activity is unethical, the target audience will receive an incorrect message from the business or organisation behind it. This incorrect message will by no means be accidental, as it was the original aim of the marketers to use different unsuspecting methods to deceive prospects into becoming buyers or subscribers. 

For unethical marketing to be successful, the company marketers behind it have to throw respect, integrity, and further standards out the window. This is why despite temporary gains, nobody really wins with unethical marketing.

Unethical activities in the field of marketing 

These acts are not always obvious. In fact, it will be hard for a regular prospect to know that they are being tricked into making decisions. As a business owner, it is your duty and marketing responsibility to make sure that you do not carry out any of these activities.

  • Bad-mouthing a rival company in your industry so that your prospects will dislike them and choose your products and services instead.
  • Exploiting public outrage over a tragic event.
  • Using misleading statements that will make your prospects think you sell products and offer services that are not as good as you make them appear. 
  • Lying about your prices on social media just to get traffic to your website or online store.
  • Comparing what you offer with what your competitors are offering the same target market.
  • Using unverified or false data to promote your business.
  • Using women as sex symbols or encouraging sexual content to attract people to your page.

And on and on it goes. There are so many ways in which unethical marketing is used to play on people’s intelligence. 

What are the roles of ethics in the field of marketing?

It is because of ethics that honest businesses have been able to use genuine marketing strategies to gain customers and boost their businesses. So the role of ethics in the field of marketing cannot be overemphasised. 

Here are some of the most important roles that ethics play in marketing:

  • It ensures honest decision-making 

When a company is guided by ethics, which is the motivation based on what is truly right and wrong, those in charge of marketing will respect these values and only make decisions that are honest. This is why all ethical marketing strategies can never get linked to any form of guile.   

  • It helps the company uphold righteous values

This role of ethics in marketing not only enhances the marketing department of a company, but the entire company as a whole. Because when the marketing strategy is ethical, it will attract and retain honest people in the business.

And when the people that work in and buy from your business are honest, it will be easier for everyone to uphold the values of righteousness. Genuineness would be the norm and not the exception.

  •  It protects the interests of shareholders

When your marketing department, which is in charge of PR and also the most visible part of your business, is working based on ethics, it ensures that your shareholders interests are protected because there will never be any legal issues.

  • It helps you fish out unethical partners

As long as your business is ethical and runs only ethical forms of marketing, it will be almost impossible for you to partner with an agency that does not follow ethical methods.

Even if they somehow find their way into your list of partners, it will not take long for you to see how unethically they operate, so you can cut ties with them. 

The dangers of unethical marketing

People and businesses that are practising unethical marketing think they are smart. Fooling people into spending their money on an exaggerated product or service may seem intelligent, but it is so damaging to the customers and eventually, the business. 

When you look closely at the whole mess created by unethical marketing, you will discover that there is actually one winner when this deceitful method is used, and that would be your competitors

Unlike decades ago, people can now use social media to publicise the good or bad experiences they have had with a company’s products and services. So if you ever use unethical methods to lure people into making purchases and they get dissatisfied, they will expose you to the world via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other similar platforms.

And guess who will be very happy to see you shamed in public — your competitors!

Yes, the same competitors you wanted to outsell with those unethical tactics may find it satisfying when you get dragged out by disappointed customers and they can optimise the entire situation to their advantage.

An old saying tells us that a weaponised truth can do a lot more damage than any fabricated lie, so if you have gone as far as bad-mouthing your competition, you will simply be handing over all your customers to them on a silver platter if they play victim. 

More dangers of unethical marketing include:

  • A tarnished reputation 
  • Loss of credibility and trust
  • A strong decline in customer patronage
  • You could be reprimanded by the government 
  • Legal fines
  • You would lose great employees and partners 

What can a business gain from ethical marketing?

There are so many good things that can happen to you as a person, your personal brand, your business or organisation, your financial status, and every other aspect of your business when you practice ethical marketing. 

Here are the benefits of applying ethical marketing in your business:

  • It will make customers loyal to you

In business and marketing, one of the main challenges people have is retaining customers after they buy once. This is usually due to competition if the product is fine.

Before spending money on other tactics of custom retention, simply use ethical marketing. Honesty builds trust and will keep your customers loyal.

  • More customers, more sales, more profit

As a credible business, people will use word-of-mouth to recommend you to others. They will also share your social media posts and this will show that your brand is loved, which will ensure more sales and profit for you.

  • It gives you credibility and a good reputation 

As you continue playing by the rules of ethical marketing, the world will notice and this will earn you a good reputation and more credibility.

  • You will have a clear conscience 

When you start reaping the massive financial benefits of ethical marketing, you will feel good about yourself because you did not break any moral or legal standings to make money.

There are so many more benefits of ethical marketing and the best way to enjoy all of them is by making sure you are an honest marketer. 

How to apply ethical marketing to your business 

It is very easy to apply ethical marketing to your business, and here are the five main actions that will make you successful:

  • Prioritise the concern of your customers

Even your most loyal customers will feel bad and question the authenticity of a product when there is a decline in how they are treated. So if they have any concerns, see to it that they are resolved in the most effective manner.

  • Protect the privacy of your customers

It is very unfortunate that some unethical companies sell out private information they get from their customers — this should never be you. In fact, you should be protecting your customers’ data and privacy by every means necessary.

  • Emphasise the benefits of doing business with you

As long as those benefits are true, you can shine a light on them during your marketing activities so that when people patronise your business, they will agree with the advert.

  • Consider human rights, as well as social and environmental factors 

Ensure that all your marketing plans are in line with the above factors and you will never go wrong with ethical marketing.

  • Be transparent

Do what you say you will do, sell exactly when you claim to have in your store, and give customers the high quality service you mention in your ads. 

How to keep your business away from any unethical marketing practices 

You can do this by following ethical marketing principles, which are:

  • Staying truthful
  • Honoring professional ethics
  • Separating advertisement from entertainment 
  • Discussing ethics in all marketing meetings
  • Involving only credible figures in endorsement deals
  • Fair treatment of all customers (no discrimination

Sonja Ceri

Founder and Director of Four Drunk Parrots, an agency that focuses on ethical marketing & strategy. With a Masters in economics and a decade of agency experience, Sonja's interests go beyond textbook marketing theory. Sonja’s passion for the environment and social impact has led to her business through B Corp and Climate Neutral certification as well as being a member of 1% For the Planet.