Applied Ethics

What does it mean to be an ethical marketer in 2021? And what can you do to build a strong sense of ethics into the way your team works? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Speaking to the EU parliament this past week, brand safety consultant Nandini Jammi signalled her faith in our industry: “If and when advertisers get back control of their ads, I’m confident they’ll do the right thing.”
  • We share Jammi’s confidence in the morals and good intentions of our fellow marketers. (Most of them at least.) But she wouldn’t be testifying if acting on those good intentions was easy.
  • Truth is, sticking to the straight and narrow is hard work. The potential pitfalls for marketers are numerous. Beyond accidentally funding hate speech, marketers must also be careful about exaggerating or distorting the truth.
  • Exploiting vulnerable groups.
  • Perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
  • Making it darn near impossible to unsubscribe from emails.
  • This ethical minefield continues behind the scenes, with the whole raft of challenges that every department must navigate: diversity, inclusion, sexual harassment, environmental stewardship. The list goes on.
  • In fact, let’s pause and take a breath before we continue.
  • Our goal here is not, of course, to overwhelm you. So let’s turn our attention to the path from theory to practice. What can a marketing leader like yourself do to turn ethics and morals into lived behaviour?
  • The first tip is simple: lead by example. Make a point of living your organizational values. And doing it in ways that are very visible to your team.
  • Consider crafting an ethical charter or code of ethics for your department. This example from the AMA is a good starting point with a marketing focus, but be sure to weave in your organizational values as well.
  • Once this is defined, it’s all about reinforcement. Reward behaviours that bring the code to life. Call out behaviours that don’t. And prune any bad apples without hesitation.
  • Eventually, ethics should be built into the processes that truly shape your team: hiring, evaluation and compensation. Bake them in this deep and modern marketing’s many ethical pitfalls won’t be an issue.
  • For the final word on the topic, we turn to the first principle of the AMA’s code of ethics, which they borrowed from the hippocratic oath. It’s a motto every modern marketer should proudly live by: “First, do no harm”.
Issue #118
Apr 18, 2021

Further Reading