Although there are government bodies tasked with the oversight of ethical marketing and social responsibility, this isn’t the only reason why it is our obligation to meet the challenge. In fact, even content meeting the highest ethical principles won’t guarantee higher profitability, but it will accomplish something far more important. It will establish both the marketing team and the client as businesses that value ethics even above profit and in the eyes of today’s consumer, that is perhaps the one challenge many companies fail to meet. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key aspects of socially responsible and ethical marketing along with some of the ways in which unethical practices have ruined companies large and small.
A Brief Look at Socially Responsible, Ethical Marketing and Business Practices
One of the things which market researchers and data analysts have uncovered in recent years is a whole new breed of consumers. There was a day when price was everything and the conditions under which products were manufactured or marketed held less value than the MSRP. Beginning with Millennials, that mindset has done a 180-degree turnaround in that today’s consumer is looking for how the manufacture and sale of products impacts society as a whole, inclusive of the people and geographic locations involved. Today’s consumer seeks to understand how a company’s actions will impact the community and that they also have philanthropic pursuits. So, what are socially responsible, ethical marketing and business practices? It’s all of the above. It’s a focus on how everything from production to sales impacts people, communities, societies, and even the planet upon which we live.
An Overview of Ethical Marketing
If you were asked to sum up just what ethical marketing is, you could do so with three words:
And really, that sums it up nicely. It is a philosophical approach to marketing in which a society defines the guidelines. Although ‘ethics’ can be highly subjective, in marketing it seeks more to address the common good within a given market or society. There are guiding principles in place such as:
- Distinct difference between sensationalizing and advertising
- A shared and clear standard of truth and values in communications
- Privacy of consumers should be protected always and in all things
- Transparency in endorsements
- Strict adherence to government policies and regulations
Here, again, you can see just how important it is to establish a set of ‘norms’ in everything from production to marketing. In fact, both the Canadian and American Marketing Associations have established a set of guidelines to be followed.
Canadian Marketing Standards and Code of Ethics
In Canada, the Canadian Marketing Association has laid down a clear policy of ethics and standards in this self-regulatory body overseeing marketers. Although they hold marketers responsible for everything within the scope of marketing, the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) must abide by this code as well. It covers:
- Truthfulness within a campaign in that every product or service must be accurately represented and that there are no false claims being given.
- Protection of personal information which can be defined and outlined in the PIPEDA, Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
- Limitations of campaigns means that vulnerable consumer groups must be protected. These would include consumers with disabilities, children, the elderly and even teenagers.
Each of these guiding principles shows the importance of protecting consumers in all things and this is why marketers in Canada are held to a high set of principles in all they do.
Ethical Norms and Values for American Marketers
In a similar manner to how Canada set forth principles to abide by in marketing, The American Marketing Association set forth what is called a statement of ethics meant to govern all actions of marketers. These standards are based on the ‘collective good’ of standards acceptable within society. Not only should marketers measure their marketing strategies by these ‘norms’ but they should also govern a marketer’s own conduct. The AMA document serves as a standard of best practices with just six principles, or ethical values, defined and outlined for any time there is interaction with the general public. They include:
- Honest and forthright dealings with integrity.
- Accepting responsibility in all things dealing with consumers. Marketers are to be “good stewards of the environment.”
- Fairness that balances buyers’ needs with the interest of sellers so that manipulation is avoided in all things.
- Respect of human dignity so that all groups and subgroups within a society are given the respect and dignity they deserve.
- Transparency has been at the top of all business and government undertaking in recent years. The AMA had placed high emphasis on transparency in marketing through communication, disclosure and action.
- Citizenship is perhaps the one area many businesses and marketers should give greater weight to than they have been doing. It’s all about paying it forward, giving back to the community, even in small measures such as that which has been given to them. Citizenship focuses on people as well as the environment and is a huge factor in ethical marketing in the 21st century.
A New Direction for Marketing in the 21st Century
In the end, it really is all about a new direction for marketing in the 21st century. There is a new generation of consumers who place greater value on human life and the ecology than any other generation before them. Millennials now have the highest amount of buying power and since ethics and social responsibility are important to them, today’s marketer and business should pay careful attention to what is important to them.
Society is seen as a global whole and in order to function and profit, it is important to see it in this way. It’s no longer a dog-eat-dog world but rather a world in which we are all up against the same dangers of pandemics and global warming. If you are a marketer in the 21st century you would do well to understand ethics and social responsibility for you and for your clients. That is the way forward so get out your roadmaps and follow the path.