We’re living in a customer-centric world. Gone are the days of swinging your dick and impressing potential customers with all this me talk. Customers are now in control, and have a choice about where they buy. That’s probably why 96% of millennials prefer to buy from ethical brands, and why as many as 56% of consumers have admitted that they will stop buying from a brand all together if they believe it’s unethical. As marketers and company owners, we’ve got our work cut out to prove that we do more than look after our customers – we look after their ethical views too. And that’s where ethical marketing comes in.
What is ethical marketing?
Rather than a set of rules, ethical marketing is more a mindset. As everybody has different opinions on what’s right and wrong, ethical marketing processes/guidelines are normally created specifically for the company you’re working for. You’ll use this internal “code of conduct” to ensure that everything your brand does reflects your values and most importantly, the values of your customers. You’ll then market not only how you solve your customers’ problems, you’ll also show how your product/service helps society as a whole by being socially responsible.
How to create ethical marketing campaigns
When you create your ethical marketing campaigns, you need to think back to your customer base. It’s a really good idea to carry out surveys to get a real idea about what your customers want from a brand, and what they stand for. Remember – this is all about what they want and not what you think they want.
Once you have your data, you can create campaigns around the results, putting emphasis on what your customers want to hear. Customers can tell when you’re faking, which is why you really have to dedicate yourself to your customers’ values. You can build relationships, create communities, and create new product lines based on what they’re looking for. It may sound like a lot of work, but statistically you’ll be 60% more profitable if you do things ethically. Look at Thomas Cook, they listened to their customers and stopped selling trips to Seaworld over concerns for animal welfare. Although it’s still early days, we’d bet that the free publicity they’ve got over the move has far outweighed the loss in revenue from axing the trips.
One you’ve listened to your customers wants, you should then turn your attention to what your customer base really don’t want, as ignoring their values will lead to more than a pissed off customer, it can lead to a full blown PR crises, worldwide boycotts, and losses of millions of euros. As these companies below have all learnt the hard way.
The ethical implications of not putting people before profit
There’s a lot of planning that goes into seeing marketing campaigns succeed, there’s often little time to think about the negatives. Even though it may seem like a waste of time, we promise you thinking of the ethics behind everything from keywords to contracts, it’ll pay off. To show you what we mean, here are a few examples. The first one is something personal that effected one of our team, and the rest are pretty famous examples of just bad marketing.
- Cow and Gate’s keyword choice for their PPC campaigns
Although statistically miscarriage affects 1 in 5 pregnancies, nothing can prepare you for the heartbreak it causes. When it happens, you’re often left searching the internet for answers, trying to piece together your feelings of loss, helplessness, and desperation. You’re devastated at the thought of never being able to see that little baby you so desperately wanted to hold and love grow up. And seeing anything baby related is enough to send you into floods of tears.
Imagine being in that situation, Googling for answers about your miscarriage, and being presented with an ad for newborn baby milk that’s there to give your baby the best start in life. The baby that you so wanted, but will never even get to meet.
Yes Cow and Gate – from a scientific perspective miscarriage is baby related, but how the hell in your right mind can you justify targeting vulnerable women like this? For those of you who don’t have much experience with PPC ads, you need to choose your keywords and who you’re targeting manually. So, Cow and Gate, why the feck would you ever choose miscarriage? Just for search volumes? If you cared about the women you market to, you’d make miscarriage a negative keyword. We know that none of our female team members are now willing to buy from you over this, and we’re sure we’re not the only ones to feel like this.
- Nivea’s “White is Purity” campaign
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Nivea kicked up a social media storm over their “white is purity” campaign. The German company thought it would work wonders in the Middle East, but ended up getting them in more trouble than it was worth.
- Nestle Boycott
We’re back on to baby formula again, focussing on the Nestle boycott this time. What started off as a US boycott in the 1970s soon swept across Europe by the 1980s, promoted by concern over Nestle’s aggressive sales tactics in developing countries. Their tactics led many women in Africa to give up breastfeeding, who then went on to make formula milk with dirty water which led to a huge number of baby deaths.
- Walmart’s ISIS cake
A really good example of a consumer standing up to what they believe was an unethical practice led to the famous incident of Walmart’s ISIS cake. Angry that a particular Walmart store decided to ban the confederate flag (including merchandise), this consumer took matters into his own hands. He decided to order an ISIS cake to see if they’d make that, after his confederate cake request got declined. Low and behold, Walmart made the ISIS cake without even realizing what it was, proving that their confederate ban was not only ridiculous, they really had no idea what they were doing.
- Date rape’s OK, according to Bloomingdales
Bloomingdale went out with an ad citing “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking”, and surprise surprise, it didn’t go down well. With 50% of all college sexual assaults down to alcohol and drink spiking, it’s really not a laughing matter is it now Bloomingdales.
- Fiat’s love letters
Back in 1994, as part of a campaign, Fiat sent out 50,000 anonymous love letters to women in Spain with the intention of revealing they were from Fiat from a few days later. Instead of making the women feel special, the women got scared, feared they had a stalker, and reported it to police! Not only did Fiat’s ad get pulled, they had to pay 155,000 pesetas to the women involved.
- Hyundai suicide ad
Here in Ireland, over 500 deaths by suicide are reported every year. Imagine having recovered from depression, or having lost a loved-one to suicide, only to have these feelings of loss and sadness brought back to you all because of a stupid ad. In 2013, Hyundai went out with a campaign showing a man trying to commit suicide, but failing as the car’s exhaust was “too green”. The ad soon received a massive backlash, and was later pulled.
How is Retro Digital a leader in ethical marketing?
As you can probably tell from this super long blog post, we can’t stand unethical marketing. So much so that we’ve completely wiped out all traces of unethical marketing from Retro Digital. We not only ensure that each and every campaign we run for our clients is 1000% ethical, we’ve gone one step further. We refuse to market brands we don’t believe in or who have very different values to ours, as you have to believe in a product to market it successfully. This not only goes for companies, it goes for products too. We don’t believe in misleading customers. We believe in ethical marketing practices for everyone involved, and every single thing we do is based around our ethical code of conduct.