Ethical Marketing: the application of moral philosophy to marketing efforts with the purpose of creating positive change in people, the environment, and society while generating interest for a product, service, or cause.
Ethics is a notoriously difficult subject to tackle. Ethics is the study of right and wrong, and everyone has a different idea of what is morally right and what isn’t.
To clarify, Ethical Marketing follows Utilitarianism – that right and wrong are determined by the outcome of an action.
The goal of Ethical Marketing is to create a positive change in people, the environment, or society as a whole while making money or drumming up support for something. Positive change doesn’t have to be massive; it may seem tiny and inconsequential. But, often, being ethical is the accumulation of hundreds of small decisions made every day.
When most people discuss a company’s ethical stance, they typically refer to a company’s impact on the environment while ignoring the rest of their behavior. True ethical businesses consider the ramifications of their behavior every opportunity they are given; and, it’s surprisingly easy. Sometimes, being ethical is as simple as asking yourself a few questions and making changes every time you answer ‘yes’:
- Is this accessible to people with physical and/or mental disabilities?
- Am I making assumptions about my audience’s race, religion, life experience, etc?
- Does this reinforce negative stereotypes of a minority group?
- And so on.
Being ethical may also require more labor or cost more, but often pays for itself over time. For example, you may need to redesign your website to make it accessible. You may also need to stop doing things or stop selling certain products because of their questionable ethics.
What are examples of ethical issues businesses should consider in their marketing efforts?
Businesses that want to be more ethical need to consider the ramifications of their behaviors at each stage in the marketing process. Even the way you collect data can be unethical – do your customers know you’re collecting this data and what you use it for?
Businesses can make it easier for themselves by listing ethical topics they need to consider at each marketing stage. The list could look like this:
- Environmental Impact
- Respect for customers
As you go through the list, check your marketing efforts to see if there are any problems that need to be corrected. If you need a little more guidance, you can always create a list of questions to guide you, like this:
- Do we use offensive language in any of our business copy, including ableist slurs like cripple/crippled, maniac, crazy, derp, or handicapable?
- How accessible is this tweet/Facebook post/video? How accessible is our website?
- How diverse are the images we use? Do any of our images include people of color, people with visible disabilities, people wearing religious dress, or people who don’t fit the model mold? And if we have diverse images, do any of them reinforce negative stereotypes of these groups?
- Do we have proper permissions to use this writing/photo/video?
- Is this cultural appropriation?
- Is this honest?
- Have we taken our customer’s safety into consideration?
- And so on.
If you’d like help improving the ethics of your marketing, try checking out some of these resources:
(And please leave a comment if you have any to add to this list)