Ethical Brands

What exactly is an ethical brand—and how can yours become one? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Your company is far from evil and you’ve got a lot on your plate already. So why should you be thinking about ethics?
  • Well, there’s some solid evidence showing that strong ethics and a commitment to sustainability can have a positive effect with consumers.
  • Then there’s the talent side of things. The current talent crunch is real—and a giant pain for many of us.
  • And one of its causes—the so called “great resignation”—is clearly tied to a desire to align our work with our personal values.
  • What does it actually mean to be an ethical brand? The answer is—as you may have guessed—not straightforward. Having pondered it a fair bit, we’ve concluded that there are two layers here.
  • The first goes well beyond marketing. It’s about the way your organization behaves as it moves through the world—and how that behaviour affects the way people see your brand.
  • Think the Volkswagen emissions scandal, Cambridge Analytica, brands pulling out of Russia (or not).
  • If you’re looking to assess organizational ethics at this macro level, there are plenty of useful frameworks out there under the ESG banner.
  • For the uninitiated, ESG stands for “Environmental, Social, Governance“. These are criteria used to assess companies through an ethical investment lens.
  • ESG has founds its way into the business mainstream in recent years.
  • These frameworks are not perfect but they provide a useful “ruler” to assess the many dimensions of ethical business behaviour. Everything from carbon footprint to diversity, labour standards and corporate lobbying.
  • Most of these things are probably outside of your direct control. But marketing leadership has a voice here—and a valuable role to play in advocating ethical improvements as a way to strengthen the brand.
  • The second layer of brand ethics is closer to home—but still complex and multi-dimensional. It’s about the way marketing is practiced.
  • The most comprehensive exploration we’ve found is the Canadian Marketing Association’s Code of Ethics and Standards.
  • The document is long and a few sections are outdated (the ethics of fax marketing, for example), but it’s worth browsing through while taking an honest look in the mirror.
  • The many focus areas include honesty in advertising, marketing to children, data privacy and practices around agency search and selection.
  • If you do a lot of digital advertising, we also recommend taking a look at the Conscious Ad Network’s series of manifestos.
  • And keeping an eye on the excellent work of the industry watchdogs at the Check My Ads Institute.
  • Brand ethics is not a zero sum game. It’s a question of intention—and translating that attention into daily practice.
  • For marketing leaders it’s about being aware, being vocal and not being afraid to take a hard look in the mirror.
Issue #143
May 22, 2022

Further Reading