Defining the Boundaries of Ethical Marketing

What is Ethical Marketing?

Obviously this is something that must be defined by each independent organization. It would stand to reason that organizations that are committed to doing ethical business would extend that commitment to their marketing initiatives. Unfortunately, from where we stand, that is all too often not the case. 

Ethical marketing is more than simply marketing in a way that does not hurt others, although this might be considered its foundation. That begs this initial question:

What marketing is harmful to others?

  • Is marketing that slanders a group of people through hate speech harmful? Surely almost all would answer yes. 

  • Is marketing that is aimed at intentionally lying to the audience harmful? Again, almost all would answer yes.

  • Is marketing that is aimed at intentionally leading the audience to break the law harmful? Most assuredly people would answer yes.

It would make sense, then, that the above would be hard and fast boundaries for ethical marketing.

Defining other boundaries, however, may not be so cut and dried.

Let's look at this example: using images that are found in a Google search without citing the source.

Is this ethical?

From our perspective, the easy answer is no. Using images on Google and posting them to accompany your own content without citing the source is basically stealing. Who are you hurting? The person who created the image in the first place. You are stealing their copyrighted material without permission. I am amazed by the amount of social media companies that make this a common practice for their clients. 

The remedy for this practice is simple. Either source images legally or create your own by using one of a variety of free image creation tools.

Here's another example: using popular music in your videos without obtaining license to do so.

Is this ethical?

Again, from our perspective, the answer is no. As with images, you are stealing from the artist when you follow this practice. There are many video creation tools, such as Animoto, that have a library of audio available for your use. Alternatively, there are thousands upon thousands of music pieces you have access to choose from when you use a creative common audio resource.

  • What about marketing that is aimed at generating guilt in the audience? Is guilting your audience into making a purchase okay? You aren't lying to them...BUT...

  • What about marketing in order to influence your audience beliefs by playing on their fears?

  • What about slamming your competition?

Take a look at any political race, and sadly you'll find examples of all the above. Does that make it right? In my opinion, certainly not. These are things that we won't do in our own marketing or for our clients.

With so much unethical marketing happening in the world, organizations must find a way to carve a new path and stand up for marketing practices that represent their commitments to doing ethical business.

Questions to ask as you craft your marketing initiatives:

  • Are we being truthful?

  • Are we hurting anyone?

  • Are we following copyright and other laws?

  • Are we manipulating the audience?

  • Are we being true to our core values?

  • Are we staying committed to our corporate social responsibility?

When marketing stems from a place of truly working to serve and build relationships with the audience, there is less risk of crossing that ethical line. This is a great place to start.