Ethical marketing – why isn’t everybody doing it?

You might say, how do I know they’re not? To which, I’d say let’s revisit our definition of ethical marketing…

Ethical marketing is not about what you sell, it’s about how you sell it. Ethical marketing is choosing to market in a truthful, transparent way that builds trust. Your marketing is ethical when you talk about your work and attract clients to your business without using psychological tactics, tricks, pressure, fear or deception.

Not only isn’t everybody doing it, some days it can feel as if nobody’s doing it!

The status quo lingers on

The current thinking in marketing is a hangover from the industrial era, focused on capturing the attention, creating urgency, and pushing for a sale. Most current business and media platforms (both on- and off-line) are based on this model. Yes, there are signs of change but the norm is still interruption of your attention with adverts, or allowing you to pay to skip the ads.

Like water, most people will follow the path of least resistance. The current system, the status quo, is always the path of least resistance.


I believe that more people would like to be making ethical choices with their marketing. Maybe they don’t see the opportunity to do so, or feel they are not yet able to make the shift to ethical marketing.

But they want to.

There’s money tied up in doing things the way they’ve always been done. Changing the status quo requires effort, and brings risk. The cost of preserving the status quo is rarely measured in money and so people see change as the high-cost option. The status quo is all about making money, whatever the cost. And for the world’s privileged, why would they want to change? The status quo got them where they are – in a position where the costs and consequences of maintaining the status quo are far enough away that they will never feel with them.

But you can’t stop change

The status quo may be stationary and doing everything it can to resist change but things are still changing, and often faster than people realise.

Take TV as an example, a media channel most households still have, but the way it is used has changed:

In America, YouTube reaches more people aged 18-49 than all linear TV networks COMBINED.

(source: Nielsen emphasis my own)

So, the engagement model and reach of TV has evolved dramatically. That’s a change that isn’t going to reverse or slow down any time soon.

This is all part of the ubiquity of personal devices and the changes in how people access media (and therefore marketing) and what they choose to pay attention to.

The change in the technology available and how we make use of it enables (even demands) other changes, including how we get people’s attention and engage them with our products and services. Some of those changes have already seen a shift towards a more ethical mindset.

The influence of influencers

This shift is happening in places you might not be seeing, for example TikTok, and recommendation or influencer marketing. On many social platforms, the recommendation model is seen as being far more trustworthy than a brand ‘telling’ you what you should buy.

A friend posting about your service or a client describing what it was like working with you is far more effective than any traditional marketing copy or Ad you could produce. Personal recommendations and referrals are extremely powerful – we’ll dive deeper into this later.

Straightforward advertising isn’t a good fit for social media – it feels wrong for the channel. People tend to skip past an Ad or, worse still, get annoyed by it and make a negative brand association.

Whatever you think of influencers, they can be very effective. Yes, they’re often being paid to promote a product or service, but that’s what the #ad (advertisement) or #af (affiliate) hashtags are for, to be clear when content is paid for. And usually, because the influencer knows their audience and its demands, the promotion feels very different to a traditional Ad.

Personal brand = freedom

When your brand is you, you’re not tied to outdated thinking about marketing. You’re free to be creative and true to yourself because you don’t have to satisfy investors’ and shareholders’ interests. In other words, it’s easier to be ethical when it’s just you.

When you use ethical marketing, you are attracting clients who are ready to work with you. When you’re open about what you’re offering and why, you’re not trying to trick or pressure anyone into buying.

This means that when you deliver, post-purchase, the work you do is much more likely to be effective and/or the product you provide will be more appreciated. If someone has decided themselves that they are ready to do the work, to put the time and effort into making it effective, then they will be more likely to see and enjoy the results.

This is you having an impact. Without manipulation.

That’s exactly what the world needs right now: people having an impact, inspiring, teaching, motivating, and shifting perspectives.

When you have this impact on a customer or client, they are more likely to refer others to you, which in turn leads to you having an impact with more people. And so the cycle continues and the effects grow and grow.

What’s more, the people you work with may be inspired by you – to change their perspective, to look for ways they can have an impact on the world. Your ethical marketing leads by example and the ripples spread outwards, into society.

Earlier, I mentioned people who are not yet ready to make the shift to more ethical marketing and behaviour. When others see an ethical stance working for you, it can be just the catalyst they need to take action themselves.


So let’s make a difference.


If this blog post has got you thinking about your marketing then you might be interested in the book I’m writing: Ethical Marketing For Your Personal Brand. If you’d like updates as I write the book and to be notified when it is released then sign up to the email list below.