Is Ethical Marketing Just A Fad?

Mitchel White
March 29, 2019

Ethical marketing has been getting a lot more press recently and rightly so.

But is it just a fad?

Will marketers move on to the next shiny thing once the Blue Planet effect wears off?

What is ethical marketing?

“Ethical marketing is a process through which companies generate customer interest in products/services, build strong customer interest/relationships, and create value for all stakeholders by incorporating social and environmental considerations in products and promotions. All aspects of marketing are considered, from sales techniques to business communication and business development.”

Financial Times Lexicon

From the definition above you can see that ethical marketing isn’t just about your messaging, ethics should run through organisations from top to bottom and be considered when making all business decisions.

Ethical marketing vs corporate social responsibility

“Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”

Financial Times Lexicon

CSR has been a hot topic for years with big organisations looking to develop initiatives to improve the health of people and the planet often by reducing their negative impact on both. M&S are a great example of a company who are prioritising sustainability in its business.

H&M are making huge leaps with their approach to more sustainable fast fashion by moving towards a fully circular and renewable economy.

But does ethical marketing goes beyond sustainability and CSR?

Early adopters like The Body Shop and Patagonia have been leading the way on ethics for years, creating a business and movement that embeds ethics in every part of their business.

The biggest difference between ethical marketing and CSR

Perhaps the biggest difference between ethical marketing and CSR is the accessibility and the way they are seen by business. Ethics are more accessible to small business. Every business can be more ethical but developing big CSR initiatives can seem daunting and expensive to a lot of smaller businesses.

Creating a clear brand promise, a mission and ethics is something every business can do. It informs every decision the business owner and employees make. Does this align with our mission and ethical stance? A question everyone can ask once a business has defined its ethics.

Unethical marketing is alive and kicking

Despite the rise in the number of brands adopting ethical stances unethical marketing is alive and kicking. Here are just a couple of ways that some small businesses are using questionable marketing tactics:

  • Creating false scarcity to bolster sales with social proof apps / plugins: social proof is an amazing thing, giving brands a chance to be transparent and use data to improve marketing KPIs but high profile examples like being investigated by the CMA are shining a light on some of the questionable uses of social proof in some companies’ marketing.

  • Fake testimonials: A fair few B2B and B2C marketers are guilty of this one. Creating fake testimonials is one way to lose any credibility and trust that you have built with your audience.

  • Under delivering and overpromising: Any marketer knows that under delivering and overpromising leads to a frustrated customer. But even in 2019, sales teams and marketing messages are over hyping products and services. Think Fyre Festival. You’re not only disappointing customers, you’re also being unethical!

So how can marketing be more ethical?

  • Transparency: Millennials demand transparency. It’s not a ‘nice to have’. It’s a must have in today’s business environment. Brands need to share more information that ever before, from transparent product packaging to website pages.

    Consumers now have access to more information than ever and they’re using it. A quick search shows us everything we need to know about brands – whether it’s to verify product claims or see past stories about the business.

  • Responsibility: When something goes wrong, it’s okay – nobody is perfect. However, marketing and the business as a whole needs to take responsibility and learn from mistakes.

    Successful marketers take responsibility for delivering on the brand’s promises from start to finish of a customer journey. Traditionally brands would develop marketing messages and push them out. Now, marketers must take responsibility and make sure all customer touchpoints match with ethics and deliver on their expectations by being responsive and proactive.

  • Honesty: Consumers are more trusting of brands that are open and honest. Consumers like brands with personality, ones they can connect with on a meaningful level. By being honest about where you’re at, you seem more human.

    At an event recently we heard about one sustainable cosmetics company’s struggle to find a non plastic alternative to its shampoo bottles. By being honest and sharing the process of trying to find and test alternatives, people are much more forgiving and buy into the journey the brand is on.

The benefits of marketing ethically

“Nielsen reveals that almost two-thirds (66%) of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact”

Marketing Charts

This jumps to 70% when you just look at Millennial data in the survey. It’s clear to see that consumers want to buy from more ethical brands but why should businesses sit up, listen and start implementing a more ethical marketing strategy?

  • It encourages word of mouth: people like to tell people they’re nice, whether we like to admit it or not. One of the reasons why people do good is to feel good about themselves and to be able to tell others. By creating an ethical product or service you’re building that shareability into your business.
  • It attracts customers: Marketing legend Seth Godin talks about “people like us do things like this” in his book This Is Marketing. He isn’t wrong. By having shared values and beliefs running through your business and marketing, you’re more likely to attract customers who share them and will buy your products and services because of it.

  • Brand loyalty: Have you ever noticed that brands who lead on ethics have developed a strong community with a tribe like mentality? That’s because their customers have bought into the brand and its values. It’s much harder to convince a customer to switch brands if they’ve got a more meaningful connection with their existing company.

So is it just a fad?

It’s hard to ignore changes in consumer trends and demands and everything is pointing to ethical marketing becoming even more important in the coming decades.

As competition and innovation increases across industries we strongly believe that you won’t be in business if you don’t adopt ethical marketing practices.

An unethical business will always get caught out eventually and it doesn’t end well.

Be on the right side of the argument and adopt ethical marketing in your business.

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