Unethical marketing tactics to avoid

Building an ethical company is easier said than done. It requires determination and commitment to your brand values to ensure that you consistently make the right choices. Most importantly, you need to make honest claims around the products or services you sell and use honest methods to advertise or promote them. 

With a commitment to ethical marketing, it will allow you to build an authentic, respected and reputable brand, with a loyal following who are more likely to shout about your products or services.

What is ethical marketing? LINK

However, while some are clear cut (such as lying or purposely misleading customers), there are often many shades of grey when it comes to ethical or unethical marketing practices. We’re here to unearth some of the industry’s shadier ones so that you can avoid accidentally upsetting your customers, damaging your brand’s reputation or even getting into legal disputes.

Don’t lie to your customers.

Regardless of what you might do in your personal life, lying is non-negotiable when it comes to running an ethical business. Brands that mislead or exploit consumers fall into the trap of unethical marketing behaviour, maybe without even knowing it.

This could be exaggerating or lying about your product or service’s benefits, or bending the truth around ingredients. Something that is particularly common in the wellness, weight loss and food industries.

Even omitting the truth or an important detail can be just as bad as lying about it.

Don’t use half naked women to sell your products or services.

There used to be the old adage that ‘sex sells’. However, that doesn’t ring true in 2021 (or at least it shouldn’t if you’re trying to run a respectful business). Unless you own a lingerie company, then there’s no reason to use scantily clad women to sell your products. Leave it in the 50s where it belongs!

Don’t be mean about your competitors.

As tempting as it might be to highlight the negatives of your competitors, taking cheap digs isn’t actually very nice. Firstly, there’s often enough market share to go around and secondly, it’s more mature to highlight the benefits of your business and why your product or service stands out.

Don’t use fear or false scarcity to force sales.

How irritating is it to hear phrases such as “this is a limited offer, so don’t miss out - buy today!”? Creating false scarcity is another example of lying, while also putting the customer under pressure to purchase something that they probably don’t need. 

Again, showing why your brand’s product or service is of value and benefit to your customer will lead them to you.

Don’t mock or discriminate against certain demographics of people.

Ethical marketing doesn’t offend, discriminate or stereotype. It’s non-negotiable. Don’t place one group of people at a higher importance than another group.  Think about gender, sex, race, age, religion, nationality, disability and politics.

Following the BLM movement, there has thankfully been a new heightened awareness of how brands should conduct themselves. Whether these brands have continued with their pledges is another matter…

Don’t exploit emotions.

Using emotions to manipulate your customers is a poor technique. While it’s necessary to rely on a customer needing your product or service in order to appeal to them, invoking anger or sadness to do so is unethical.

Write messages that are targeted to your specific audiences, with the appropriate language and imagery instead.

Don’t spam your customers.

This one is really crucial for GDPR compliance: don’t send unsolicited emails. Unless your customer has given explicit permission for you to contact them, just don’t do it.

It’s also important to not harass your customer with loads of email, calls, post or SMS. If nothing else, it’s a financial cost, a cost to time and comes across as a little desperate. Spend time building your brand and developing strong inbound marketing techniques instead so that customers fall at your feet.


Although many of these seem like common sense, it can be easy to fall into the trap if you’re not on the ball.

If you would like some more guidance on how to avoid unethical marketing practices, get in touch with us.

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