We tend to think of digital marketing as a process – something companies do to grab attention online and sell products. It seems to have as much to do with morality as brushing your teeth.
But as with anything that involves people, it is subject to universal ethical rules. And businesses need to be aware of them.
In this past, we’ve seen dozens of brands behave unethically in their marketing. Usually, it involves making some false claims about the benefits of a product, luring people in, and getting them to spend money, but not delivering the benefits. Other times, unethical marketing means misleading customers, without lying outright.
Either way, neither of these behaviors are good. Both are, in a sense, fraud. You’re promising people benefits from buying your products, but not delivering according to your advertising. In other words, you’re playing tricks on people.
Why Digital Marketing Should Be Ethical
While the media likes to portray companies as amoral and merely responding to market forces, that’s rarely how it pans out in reality. The leaders of most companies are regular human beings with the same good moral sense as everyone else. Yes – they face more extreme temptation to do wrong than most other people. But they also have a conscience. They’re not just profit-maximizing automatons, looking to make a quick buck.
Firms, therefore, will often make ethical decisions. Some, for instance, will choose not to use sweatshops in Asia to source products. Others will actively look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, even if it means losing money in the long-run.
Companies, therefore, should think long and hard about how they do their digital marketing. It’s okay to be upfront and honest, even if it means losing immediate competitiveness.
Brands should be ethical in their digital marketing for two reasons. The first is altruistic: companies should want to protect their customers from fraud.
Let’s say that you want to sell healthy food to people, and you market your products as containing no added sugar, salt, or fat. People will flock to you because you’re offering something outside the norm – healthy convenience food. But now suppose you add salt and sugar anyway to make it taste better. In this case, you’re committing fraud and hurting customers at the same time.
The second reason for honest digital marketing is selfish. The more accurate you are about your products, the more people trust your brand. Remember, dishonesty carries a massive penalty. Brands have died overnight after people found out that they’d been misled.
The Issue Of Data Collection
There’s also the topic of data collection – something that has dogged the marketing industry for years. Some companies simply collect data to pass it on to other firms for a price. They ask user permission deep in the terms and conditions, but most people don’t understand how it is being used. Games, for instance, track location, continually feeding data to their clients who then use it for advertising products. It’s a corporate version of Big Brother.