Can Marketing Be Ethical?

November 5, 2018

As a marketing major, business ethics has been on my mind lately. I went into marketing because I decided I wanted a little more stability and flexibility in my career while still allowing some freedom to let my creative side soar. Those are tricky parameters but for now marketing checks off the most boxes. I am an undergrad business student obsessed with sustainability and ethical business practices. When I first started this journey I was terrified that there wasn’t much of an industry to go into with these kinds of parameters especially as I went through core business classes.

I Read an Article That Got Me Thinkin’

The thing about marketers, well, to put it bluntly, we figure out how to make you buy shit. We track what links people click in email campaigns, what ads we created for you to look at and why you were drawn to them. My future job at a macro level is how to figure out how to attract, retain and keep clients coming back. All the while my ethics are pushing back against consumer mentality. I recently read a blog post on a free, and public marketing platform called HubSpot titled The Ultimate Guide to Emotional Marketing.” Now, not trying to shame the message of the article. As mentioned in the post, the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always was uplifting and inspiring. I would much rather see this strategy in marketing then skinny blondes showing off products in bikinis. But still, the concept of emotional marketing left me unsettled because I know how much damage it can create. I have great aunts and uncles that would donate any amount of money if they get a letter in the mail from a sketchy non-profit with a starving child from Africa plastered across the cover. It is one thing to educate and explain what your company does; it is another story to create poverty porn when your CEO is pocketing millions. Do you see the conflict I have?

As a marketer, I am not saying the emotional marketing model shouldn’t be an option. It can be powerful, meaningful, uplifting, and inspiring. Those are some of my favorite attributes to marketing. All I am saying is that the company that dares to pull at my heartstrings better damn deliver. I am not only a marketer, but a consumer and it is crucial for moving forward in this career to remember that I am both.

So, Back to my Initial Question- 

Can marketing be ethical? Overall, I think so if used correctly which is often not the case. I accept the fact that we live in a consumer society and my intention isn’t to set out to force people to stop buying things; I think that is an unattainable uphill battle. Instead, my argument is urging consumers to buy better. As a business professional, we must create the backbones that form an ethical business. Then as a marketer, my job is to share all the good that any particular company is doing. And if I deliver compelling and emotional facts that make you reconsider purchasing from a big name brand that is damaging the world. Well emotional marketing worked, I did my job, and I can sleep at night. I know when I graduate it is crucial for me to work for an ethical business that I believe in because this industry does have a lot of a grey area. But I am excited about the future and to hopefully be a part of a shift in business that praises and raises up ethical companies. You better hold me to that statement five years from now.

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