Artificial intelligence

Guiding Principles for Ethics in Marketing: Keeping Our Eyes on the Horizon

Business marketing is defined as the research, promotion and sales of products or services. Pretty straightforward.

Except that it isn’t!

Trying to persuade consumers to believe that a business is valuable (even with the best intentions, we are technically manipulating customer perception) can put us smack in the middle of a moral gray area.

While the benefits of honing in on your marketing efforts can be huge—boosting brand awareness ultimately leads to increased sales—it is critically important to remain cognizant of the means by which we influence others.

This is especially significant considering that the marketing world is ever-changing, and the use of technology is becoming more and more prevalent. The average person is not exactly familiar with how businesses use their information to target them through advertising.

If you’re wondering what the harm is in this arrangement, consider that when customers are kept in the dark, it makes it impossible to form a mutually trusting relationship between people and businesses. When marketing practices are unethical, everyone eventually suffers.

Here’s a handy summary of what constitutes unethical marketing practices:

·      False or exaggerated claims

·      Misleading facts or a distortion of reality

·      Withholding important information or side effects

·      Slandering rivals

·      Discriminatory messages

·      Exploitation

So how do you optimize your results without trading away your brand’s integrity?

1.     If you are guided by a single principle when it comes to ethics in marketing, let it be this: Practicing ethics requires the distinction between good and bad/right and wrong, regardless of the legality of the situation.
From a business standpoint, you should ask yourself, “Am I doing more harm than good?” (Penn, 2018). If having no regard for others is the price for achieving success, you can be sure a business is falling short ethically.

2.     Another excellent guiding principle is to concentrate on promoting sincerity and fairness.
This requires balancing the company’s financial interests with social responsibility (Ethical Marketing). In short: Make money, but think of others while you do it.

Simple enough, right? Not quite! Ethically speaking, there are still a few loose ends.

Artificial Intelligence

It’s no secret that technological innovation can be both a blessing and a burden. Looking ahead, artificial intelligence (AI) appears to be the next morally ambiguous entity we have to prepare for.

AI can rapidly recognize patterns and meaning in human behavior, which is advantageous when incorporated into marketing practices. However, the amount of sensitive personal data that is being collected on people is unprecedented.

We’re not just talking about a person’s geo-location or knowing her go-to online shopping sites. The algorithms can (and will) pick up on your values, impulses, vulnerabilities and motivations. AI knows you so well, in fact, that advertising can be tailored in a way that controls and accurately predicts your behavior. It’s like having a data-driven, algorithm-comprised follower that knows everything about you, but you know nothing about them.

Generally, people care about protecting personal information and maintaining a certain level of privacy. Collecting sensitive data has become all the more worrisome considering the prevalence of data misuse, breaches, and threatened cyber security (Facebook, we’re looking at you).

At its best, AI can be a great tool for connecting people with exactly what they’re looking for. While the pay-off of using AI is rewarding, with powerful technology comes great responsibility. As we wade out into these uncharted waters, what we need is to form an infallible set of ethical guidelines that instill transparency and allow people to be a part of the process rather than be targeted blindly.

The most important take-away from this is that taking the moral high ground can actually give you a significant competitive advantage. As we’ve talked about before, being upfront and honest can actually create a more trusting and long-lasting relationship with your customers, especially with millennials. Sticking to ethical guidelines can build you a promising reputation (valuable) and ultimately, foster brand loyalty (priceless).  

Penn, C. S. (2018, January 05). What is ethics in marketing? Retrieved from

Ethical Marketing | What is Ethical Marketing? (n.d.). Retrieved from