What is ethical marketing?

by | May 24, 2019

Ethics is hard to define and even harder to apply, especially in business. Ethics can very generally be described as a set of moral principles that govern behaviour. Whereas the decisions a business makes are usually driven by the goal of making money. It’s clear that being guided by profits isn’t always compatible with being guided by ethics. So how do we resolve this? Is there a compromise?


What is ethical marketing?

Ethical marketing is not a strategy but rather a set of principles that guides every action an organisation and its employees make.

Individual organisations may have their own ethical marketing principles but in essence these should promote honesty, accountability and fairness. These principles should permeate every marketing decision, from the creation of strategy right through to each element of its implementation.  

More broadly than ethical marketing principles, some organisations have an ethical code of conduct which is at the centre of their business. For these organisations, marketing in an ethical way is a natural representation of the business’ character. A company that wants to advertise ethically will have a much easier job if its ethical code is applied to all other areas of the business too.


Why does it matter?

Marketing holds an incredibly important position in any organisation. It can be seen as a company’s mouthpiece and often dictates how it is perceived by the rest of the world.

Not all organisations have an ethics code or practice ethical marketing. Some chop and change depending on the campaign. Sometimes, ethical marketing doesn’t give you the edge. But to really say that you practice ethical marketing, you should practice it consistently. It’s not just about the end result, but how you’ve arrived there too. So, the answer the question above – is there a compromise between ethics and profits – is ‘no’. Operating ethically means that you must put morals first with every decision.

Conducting business in an ethical manner can have many advantages for a business. For one thing, you can be sure that you won’t be putting your business at risk in any way by misleading consumers. For example, a Nutella ad was famously banned for pitching the chocolate spread as a healthy breakfast food for children. If you’re marketing ethically, you won’t get in any tricky situations with fines or even lawsuits.

For many companies, customer loyalty is key to success. The best way to achieving customer loyalty is to earn it by building a positive and ethical image for your business. In general, people would much rather work with or buy from an ethical business than an unethical one.

Ethical marketing can work wonders for employee loyalty as well as customer loyalty. If your business operates in a fair and responsible way, it’s more likely that your workers will stick around and work harder to accomplish your goals.

In many ways, as well as being morally correct, ethical marketing makes good business sense.


Ethical marketing in 2019

As our lives become increasingly digital and the possibilities for the marketing industry expand in the online world, it is becoming more and more important for us to act ethically as marketers. Marketing is starting to permeate almost every aspect of our lives and our ability to understand our audiences’ habits, likes and dislikes is increasing.  

However, while we are getting closer to understanding our customers it seems that consumer trust is declining. We must not forget that the number of records being exposed in data breaches is increasing. A survey carried out by the Identity Theft Resource Centre revealed that 446.52 million records were exposed in the United States alone last year. That represents an increase of almost 150% on the previous year.

Statistic: Annual number of data breaches and exposed records in the United States from 2005 to 2018 (in millions) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

It’s not really surprising, therefore, that suspicions about what businesses are doing with consumers’ data are growing. This is especially true when it comes to personalised advertisements. According to a recent survey conducted by RSA, only 17% of adults in the UK, the US, France and Germany view tracking online activity to tailor advertisements as ethical. Whether this practice is ethical or not, consumers’ attitudes towards it highlight the pervasive mistrust towards modern marketing practices.

In 2019, amidst these growing suspicions, it is more important than ever to practice ethical marketing and earn back the trust of the consumer.

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