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What Is Ethical Marketing? 5 Key Principles

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

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More people than ever are choosing to buy from ethical businesses, and it’s not just what you sell that matters, it’s how you sell it. In a 2022 global survey, 60% of consumers said that trustworthiness is the most important trait in a brand.

From the ingredients you use in your products to the words you use in your copy, conscious decisions should be made at every stage of your business, including your marketing strategy.

In this blog, I’ll dive into ethical marketing issues, principles, and my conscious copywriting ethos.

Ethical issues in marketing

Let’s not beat around the bush, there are a lot of ethical issues when it comes to traditional marketing strategies.

Put simply, marketing can be seen as how big cooperates get into people’s heads by making them feel like something is wrong with them, they’re lacking, and this one particular product will sort out all their issues.

It’s an unfair way of promoting a scarcity mindset and excessive consumerism. And it’s utter bullsh*t.

Some of the main ethical issues that need highlighting include:

1) False and unverified claims

Exaggerated or hyperbolic language, lack of high-quality evidence, and a false sense of urgency (e.g. ‘offer ends soon’ when you have no intention of ending the offer).

2) Stereotyping

Promoting certain attitudes to maintain, and buy into, a prejudiced culture.

3) Emotional manipulation

Tastelessly evoking negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, and suggesting your product is the only solution. Pain points are to be empathised with, not triggered.

4) Lack of responsibility

Unethical data usage and lack of protection, and irresponsible pricing strategies such as price gouging, predatory pricing, and ‘bait and switch’.

For smaller businesses, it’s easy to look at hugely successful companies using unethical marketing and think that it’s the only way to do it. I’m here to tell you that it’s not.

What is ethical marketing?

Ethical marketing is the practice of upholding a company’s ethical values and standards in its promotional strategies. You can see how these big companies use the technique in their marketing efforts, including conscious copywriting.

5 key principles in ethical marketing

There are many different ways to be ethical in your marketing and your principles should tie into the values your brand holds at its core. That said, these five general points are a good place to start:

1. Inclusivity

Your target audience should be based on data, not assumptions and, whilst your tone of voice should be directed at this group, ensure the words you use aren’t completely excluding any other group.

Use your creativity to navigate unhealthy norms in your market and even wider society.

2. Transparency

Be honest about your products, supply chain, what you're currently doing, and the goals you’re working on. Include tangible evidence where possible.

3. Accessibility

Avoid unnecessary jargon and overly complicated sentence structures. Don’t hide any information, make every bit of copy quick to spot and easy to digest.

4. Honesty

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, hits this nail on the head with this one:

Be sincere. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Forget about the benefits to yourself and focus on the benefits to the other person.

5. Responsibility

In terms of your wider marketing, have initiatives in place that address your social and environmental responsibility.

On a smaller scale, responsibility manage your website and data collection and protection. For example, as I have contact forms on my website, I pay an annual fee to be a registered Data Controller and have a clear Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions pages.

What is the Ethical Move Pledge?

To commit to these principles and be held accountable, you can be part of the movement for ethical marketing: The Ethical Move.

The Ethical Move believes in collectively changing the marketing industry to be transparent, responsible, and honest, with a pledge and badge that shows you’re collaboration and commitment.

The pledge follows:

  • I put the person before the sale. I respect you and your privacy. I will help you make the best choice for your needs.

  • I communicate inclusively, truthfully, and clearly.​ I will not confuse you or hide information from you. I will help all audiences feel welcome.

  • I take responsibility for my part in changing the marketplace.​ I recognize the need to break the cycle of consumerism. I will continuously review my sales and marketing to ensure they benefit the common good.

My conscious copywriting promise

In terms of my ethical marketing strategy, I wanted to go beyond the pledge and create a personal promise. It encompasses all of the things that are at the core of my brand:

I promise…

  • To write with accessibility & inclusivity in mind. I will not assume the readers’ lived experience, sexuality, gender identity, race, income, or abilities, and avoid making generalising statements.

  • To keep transparency & traceability at the centre of every copywriting project.

  • To empower conscious consumers to make informed purchases, through clear copy that instills a positive, empowered, and hopeful mindset.

  • To embrace brands that take a holistic approach to wellness, acknowledging that caring for your mind, body, community, and environment all feed into a happy and healthy life.

My Ethos page, pledge, and promise, represent my commitment to learning and growing. I hope this inspires you to begin to make a sustainable shift to ethical marketing methods in your brand.

Follow me on LinkedIn to stay in the loop about the ethical moves I'm making.

Text: Written By Heather - Conscious copywriting for wellness brands

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