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Buyer Beware: Marketing Ethics Are Out of Control

Marketing ethics are out of control. There, I said it.

It’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’m seeing it in the online business community and I’m seeing it among my local marketing community.

The conversation about ethical marketing is nothing new. You’ll always have people that push the limits. I know the ethical gray area has always been there — especially in an industry that’s largely unregulated — but it seems over the past two or three years that gray area is becoming a familiar one for some.

It seems every scroll of LinkedIn or Instagram is a horror film of:

  • Overly aggressive tactics to engage audiences.

  • False claims and promises about a product or service.

  • Attempts to capitalize on hesitation, trauma, depression, anxiety, negative circumstances, etc.

  • Promotion of an assumed luxury lifestyle that isn’t accessible for the average person.

The Example

I’m a member of a community of women entrepreneurs and part of the membership rate is a quarterly coaching call. At the beginning of the year, I met with a coach and was discussing the upcoming launch of my new product: The MKTG Collection.

The coach — with no marketing background — suggested that I begin selling pre-memberships. The problem with that? I had no product at that point. The MKTG Collection wasn’t even close to being done. I would be essentially lying that MKTG was “almost ready!” even though I really had no completion timeline. The early bird pricing strategy is great if you have a completion timeline and you’re almost to the finish line. In my case, however; I would essentially be taking people’s money with no true promise of delivery. She saw no issue with it.

She also pushed me to raise my price without much reasoning. The problem with that? I put a lot of thought into prices, my experience and service, and counter that with what I would have thought was reasonable when I was an in-house marketing director. I never pull a price out of the sky because I think I can dupe someone into paying an astronomical rate. Pricing has to be reasonable.

I’m all for creating a sense of urgency in marketing campaigns, but not when we get into an area of lying. And, I’m all for charging what you’re worth, but there is a balance with the value of what you’re offering — and, no, there is not an online course out there that is worth $10K just because one person will (foolishly) pay it.

The Problem

I talk to my undergrad marketing students a lot about things becoming “Amazon-ified” or “Wal-Mart-ified” in marketing. I’m referring to when marketing tactics and tools become accessible to the masses to the point that they can become corrupted and devalued.

I can remember at the beginning of my career begging for a video budget from my department because the only way to have video was to hire a video production company. Now, anyone can create beautiful videos right on their phone. Add in the pandemic and The Great Resignation, and a lot of online businesses have popped up. It’s so easy to be pulled into people’s creative messaging, perceived expertise, and assumed luxury lifestyle. Not to mention, it’s also easy to stretch the truth of your own value, experience, and products because no one is really checking you. Plus, when it seems like everyone else is doing it, or you find a coach who tells you it’s ok, it is easy to justify unethical actions.

Don’t Count Out All Marketers

There are a lot of individuals and organizations doing marketing right and doing it well. They are authentic, true to their values, and don’t venture into that ethical gray area. It takes mindfulness and intention and, at Evergreen, we work at this constantly.

I’m seeing the issue lie in the people and organizations that have no true marketing background — or have made no attempt to learn. I really don’t think they understand or care about what they’re doing. It’s all about the bottom line or number of followers for them. It’s a sell-at-all-costs attitude.

So with that, I end with a quote by Dalai Lama that I recently came across—on Instagram of all places—that I believe is a perfect guiding light when it comes to ethical marketing:

If you can, help others.

If you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

-Dalai Lama

Want to work with us? Get in touch with Evergreen Strategic Communications here.


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