What is ethical marketing?

As a self-identified purpose-led and ethical marketing agency, our aim is to ensure we’re ethical at every opportunity. Our vision is to change the face of marketing for good; it’s ingrained in who we are and what we believe. We encourage our clients to engage in ethical business practices and in turn we use only ethical methods to market their goods or services.

But what does it really mean and where has it come from?

Collectively, we’ve moved into a post-truth era where we’re sceptical of messaging coming from businesses, politicians, and generally anyone with power. Applying that from a consumer perspective means that businesses will, and have, come under scrutiny for making false claims or promises when marketing or advertising their goods or services. Because of this, there has been a rise in companies trying to put ethical business practices into place, most noticeably their marketing.

Not to be confused with sustainability marketing or conscious marketing - though these are both branches of ethical marketing - the concept of ethical marketing isn’t always straightforward. 

Ethical marketing is really an extension of our own values and morals, applied to businesses. It’s a notoriously difficult set of guidelines to pin down as everyone’s perception of what is morally right and wrong greatly differs. 

Traditionally, the seven principles of ethics include: 

  1. Honesty
  2. Integrity
  3. Promise-Keeping & Trustworthiness
  4. Loyalty
  5. Fairness
  6. Concern for Others
  7. Respect for Others
  8. Law Abiding

Ultimately, if your business claims to be engaging in ethical marketing then you should be making honest claims around the products or services you sell and use honest methods to advertise or promote them.

Here are some of our ideas about what we believe ethical marketing is.

Ethical marketing is a philosophy.

Ethical marketing is not a short-term gimmicky strategy aimed at making quick sales, but a complete long-term overhaul of the branding of a business. It’s about ensuring that an ethical philosophy drives the business, rooted within its purpose, mission and values, and lived through its employees, customers and promises. 

A brand’s ethics should be felt at every interaction and every touchpoint.

Ethical marketing is about transparency.

For us, ethical marketing falls heavily on being honest and transparent about who we are, what we do and how we do it. It’s about giving a deeper insight into processes behind the scenes, how products are made and who is making them. 

Transparency could also mean owning up when things go wrong or you don’t quite follow through on a promise you made to your customers. 

One easy way to be transparent with your customers is to share your sustainability story. Not many businesses can afford to engage in completely sustainable practices from the outset, so instead of hiding that due to guilt, share your journey. You never know, you might even encourage people to do the same!

Ethical marketing is linked to the goods and services sold.

In theory, not all businesses are required to sell ethical products or services in order to engage in ethical marketing strategies.

However, if the product or service itself is poorly made, mass produced, made by people who are working below the minimum wage or in an unsafe environment, then is the company really that ethical and should they be marketing themselves as such? We don’t think so, otherwise claims are false and become greenwashing. However, it doesn’t stop companies from trying!

For example, no matter how many sustainable initiatives oil giant BP can come up with, ultimately the product they sell is a fossil fuel.

Businesses can focus on how their products or services benefit socially responsible or environmental causes. For example, this could be a Fairtrade coffee whose practices directly impact the welfare of the workers with fair pay, whilst also monitoring the impact on the environment by using less toxic pesticides.

Ethical marketing is how goods and services are sold.

Ethical marketing encompasses the way in which a product or service is marketed to the world. The conduct and code of marketing ethics. 

This falls on us as marketers as there are often shady and unethical practices in marketing e.g. buying followers or selling customer data to third parties. 

To be truly ethical, this means also staying away from cheap tricks such as creating false scarcity or regular sales promotions to push sales. In the long run, these don’t do businesses any favours and customers can see through the hypocrisy.  

Ethical marketing is about more than just profit.

While profit is most certainly a driving force for many businesses, removing this as the sole driver means you can engage in more considered practices that deliver real change.

For example, a small, independently run restaurant could choose to employ a diverse workforce on a fair living wage and take steps to reduce their impact on the environment by using only seasonal produce. 

Ethical marketing is about your impact on the world.

If you’re following all of the above, then you’re on the right path. Consider what type of reputation you want to have and whether what you’re doing can truly make a difference to people and planet.

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