in the Digital Age
“It’s not what you sell that matters as much as how you sell it.”
– Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-Founder, HubSpot
“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” – Potter Stewart
The Evolution of Marketing Ethics
The digital age is entirely upon us, and with it comes a whole new set of marketing ethics. Marketing involved newspaper ads, billboards, and maybe an email or two in the past. It’s fair to say today’s industry is drastically different. Email inboxes are full, information is consistently gathered and studied (legally and illegally), and every webpage has a link, GIF, or banner image enticing you to buy a particular product.
As technology and our ability to access information has changed exponentially in recent years, so has the research for marketing academics and practitioners. Subjects such as online customer interaction and behavior, social media engagement, and smartphone advertising practices have greatly interested the academic marketing community.
Today’s marketing ways have been questioned, causing debates about what is ethical in a world where just about everything is available for everyone. Advanced technology impacts the details we must comprehend to conduct ourselves ethically, but it doesn’t change the significance of being ethical. Overcoming ethical challenges in today’s digital world comes down to one simple truth: ethics is about human behavior, not technology.
Ethical Marketing Begins with Research
Marketing ethics are as essential as marketing itself. Every stakeholder within a marketing campaign, from the clients and general public to respondents and researchers, has a set of certain rights and obligations. When ethics aren’t considered in market research methods, things can be taken too far and even the line between legal and illegal can quickly become blurred. When companies overlook the importance of marketing ethics in their research, they can face serious repercussions such as public backlash, private information leaks, lawsuits, and even altering or ruining the lives of innocent consumers.
Data and Information Privacy
It is ethical for a company to do all it can to ensure they do not violate consumer rights and privacy rules in digital marketing. Mining and extracting data without consumer consent via platforms such as Facebook to create marketing campaigns is just one example of violating these privacy rules. In some extreme cases, legal actions can be taken by those impacted.
Privacy and Transparency
In all things marketing, companies must respect consumers’ privacy and be transparent about what information they are collecting and how it will be used. Companies that are open and honest about the information they gather, allow consumers to choose what personal data can be collected, and offer a fair return in exchange for the information they collect will be more trusted and successful in the open marketplace. Those who deceive and hide their true intentions when collecting this data, failing to communicate openly and provide some value for the information they gather, can lose their customers’ trust, resulting in a significant decrease in profits.
Tracking Consumer Data
Companies track and collect consumer data in various ways from an even greater variety of sources. Some methods are incredibly technical while others are much simpler, and some even require highly sophisticated software. When researching and tracking this data, companies often focus on demographic and behavioral data – age, ethnicity, interests, frequently visited websites, etc. Companies utilize their websites, social media, customer phone calls, and live chats to track consumer data.
Tips for Ethical Marketing
Truthful advertising – To conduct proper marketing ethics, a company must be honest in its advertising. When writing copy and headlines, it is best to avoid false comparisons and exaggerated or vague claims.
Design for Privacy, Security, and Integrity
When creating a marketing campaign, design your tactics and content while considering your company’s integrity and the privacy and security of the data you plan to use throughout the campaign.
Using a consistent messaging strategy and being truthful and transparent with product offerings builds trust with consumers. It is always best to be open and honest with details and benefits, as well as any information that is being collected during your marketing efforts.
A sense of accountability is essential in creating truthful and ethical communications for your brand or any brand you may represent. When a mistake is made, own up to it and do your best to correct it.
Remember that not everyone is the same and different people come from diverse backgrounds. Including intentional sensitivity in your messaging helps avoid offending or misrepresenting someone from different cultures.
Promote an Ethical Culture
Fostering an ethical culture is essential in ensuring that everything you create, promote, or sell has an ethical consideration. Marketing ethics aren’t just something to consider; they need to be rooted in a company’s culture and day-to-day activities.
Red Crow’s Ethics