The emergence of artificial intelligence tools, predictive technology, and other recent innovations has fed growing concerns about ethics in marketing.1 These data-driven tools can lead to exciting industry advancements but also make many people uneasy. According to a national survey conducted by the professional services network KPMG, 68% of Americans feel anxious about the amount of data collected by corporations, and 40% don’t trust businesses to use their information ethically.2 As public skepticism grows, companies face increased pressure to use ethical marketing practices.
If you’re interested in starting or advancing a career in marketing, you may wonder whether it’s possible to promote products and services ethically. This issue has become more complex as technology evolves, but there are plenty of ethical strategies for marketing professionals. Read on to explore the importance of ethics in marketing and some of the ethical complexities of marketing in the digital age.
What Is Ethics in Marketing?
Marketing is an inescapable part of daily life, but many people view advertisements with mistrust. One study by the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that 96% of people believe advertising and marketing professionals don’t practice integrity.3 Despite this intense skepticism, members of the marketing industry typically strive to meet ethical standards.
What is ethics in marketing? The Statement of Ethics from the American Marketing Association (AMA) requires marketers to promote products and services honestly and in good faith. They’re obliged not to employ deceptive marketing tactics, but instead to provide truthful information about products’ cost, design, delivery, and other features. Additionally, marketers are not to engage in harmful or illegal actions, such as selling dangerous products.4
The AMA also requires marketers to uphold these values:4
- Honesty: Give clients and stakeholders truthful information and stand behind their commitments
- Responsibility: When making marketing decisions, prioritize the needs of the clients, the environment, and vulnerable groups such as senior citizens
- Fairness: Avoid harmful practices such as false advertising, manipulative sales tactics, and price gouging
- Respect: Treat everyone fairly regardless of identity, including customers, consultants, intermediaries, and suppliers
- Transparency: Communicate effectively and respond to constructive criticism
- Citizenship: Contribute to the larger community and promote fair trade
In committing to ethical marketing practices, marketers must comply with federal, state, and local regulations governing ethical behavior. For example, the Federal Trade Commission requires social media influencers to disclose paid relationships with brands and sponsors.5 Marketers can use codes of ethics and laws as guidelines for ethical decision-making.
What Is the Role of Ethics in Marketing?
A code of ethics can serve as a helpful starting point for learning about marketing with integrity, but what is the role of ethics in marketing? Consider two ways that professionals can implement ethical practices in their marketing efforts.
Building Trust With Ethical Marketing
First, marketers can use ethics to build trust among corporations, consumers, and stakeholders. A 2021 study conducted by the media platforms Clear Channel and JCDecaux revealed that 81% of consumers consider trust an essential factor when making purchasing decisions, and 61% value transparency.6 Customers often want to support companies they perceive as honest and reputable.
Ethical marketing can help businesses meet this hunger for transparency. Marketing professionals can increase trust by disclosing relevant brand and product information. For example, the fast-food retailer Panera increased its quarterly sales by 5% after revamping its menu to include information about animal welfare and nutrition.7 Using marketing to increase credibility can promote customer loyalty and boost revenue.
Ensuring Accountability and Honest Marketing Research
Marketing professionals can also use ethical frameworks to conduct consumer research with integrity. ‘Consumer research’ refers to the collection of information about a target audience’s purchasing habits, product needs, and preferences. Marketers can use consumer research to gain insights into consumer behavior, trends, and pricing.8 However, it’s essential to conduct this research within the bounds of business ethics.
Ethical market research requires marketers to obtain informed consent from subjects, especially when using technology to collect information. All participants must understand the purpose of information collection and the ways in which marketers will use their data. Also, marketers must avoid biased research that singles out, misrepresents, or otherwise mistreats individuals or groups of people based on their demographics.9
Ethical marketing keeps businesses accountable and honest. Customers want to support corporations they perceive as trustworthy, and marketing is a valuable tool that can help corporations operate with integrity, develop positive reputations, and build brand loyalty.
Marketing Ethics in the Digital Age
The rise of technology has made ethical marketing more relevant than ever. Marketers can use innovative tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) content generators and third-party tracking cookies to promote their brands and gather information about their target audiences. However, these forms of technology raise many ethical questions about consumer privacy, consent, and other issues. Marketing professionals can draw on ethical principles to use digital tools responsibly.
For example, ethical marketing is essential when using social media advertisements. Many brands pay influencers to promote their products on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. This tactic can be highly effective. Research shows that 63% of social media users consider influencer marketing more effective than traditional paid advertising.10
Ethical marketers choose to work with authentic, honest influencers who have built trusting relationships with their followers.11 In the realm of social media marketing, unethical marketing practices would include influencers misrepresenting products or lying about corporate sponsorships. The United States Federal Trade Commission requires social media influencers to disclose their relationships with corporations.
Marketers are also responsible for making ethical decisions when using consumer data. The Association of National Advertisers encourages marketing professionals to adopt common-sense business practices such as protecting consumer data from external parties, informing customers if their data gets shared, and giving people a way to opt out of data collection.12 These strategies help marketers use digital technology respectfully and with integrity.
Lead the Field as an Ethical Marketer
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- Retrieved on April 2, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2022/08/17/the-role-of-ethics-in-the-evolving-world-of-marketing-ai/
- Retrieved on April 2, 2023, from advisory.kpmg.us/content/dam/advisory/en/pdfs/2021/corporate-data-responsibility-bridging-the-consumer-trust-gap.pdf
- Retrieved on April 2, 2023, from adage.com/article/media/marketers-media-trusts/298221
- Retrieved on April 2, 2023, from myama.my.site.com/s/article/AMA-Statement-of-Ethics
- Retrieved on April 2, 2023, from ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/disclosures-101-social-media-influencers
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from thedrum.com/news/2021/03/24/just-over-third-consumers-trust-brands-say-clear-channel-and-jcdecaux
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/08/30/how-to-use-ethical-marketing-to-attract-the-right-audience/
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from blog.hubspot.com/marketing/market-research-buyers-journey-guide
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from smallbusiness.chron.com/ethical-marketing-strategy-61404.html
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from apnews.com/article/business-media-social-media-39312e45ee2a748049cbd1ec4862b6e3
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2023/01/30/social-responsibility-and-ethics-in-influencer-marketing/
- Retrieved on April 3, 2023, from ana.net/miccontent/show/id/ii-2022-02-et-privacy-its-about-the-data