The ethical marketing movement is a movement away from manipulative marketing tactics that have been considered normal—although ethically questionable—over the years. The ethical marketing movement represents leaving behind harmful, pushy sales tactics and using gentle, consent-based practices instead.
And I’m all for it!
But as can happen with any movement, when the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, the ethical marketing movement can potentially come with its own pitfalls when taken to an extreme.
What do I mean?
Well, in many ethical marketing circles, one set of rules that says “do whatever it takes to make money” has been switched out for a different set of rules that says “I’ve decided what’s right and wrong, and I’ll be judging other business owners by these rules.”
And here are my honest thoughts about that.
Instead of creating a long list of rules for ethical marketing, I prefer using just ONE rule—the Golden Rule: doing to others as you’d have them do to you.
What I mean is, instead of deciding that there’s a long list of ethical rules that you and everyone else needs to follow, you only do things in your business that you’re okay with other people doing to you in theirs.
Here’s what that looks like practically:
If countdown timers bother you, don't use them.
If prices that end in a two, seven, or nine bother you, price your items differently.
If it bothers you when people mention something they're selling at the end of an informational video or post, then separate your selling content from your non-selling content.
But if NONE of those things bother you in the businesses YOU encounter, you can give yourself permission to do those things without worrying that you’re breaking the “ethical marketing rules.”
Now, I'm not saying that there aren't people out there deliberately trying to be manipulative—there are!
But what I’m saying is that I personally don't want to have a long list of things that declares what is or isn't ethical in every moment for every business owner. I want to tread that water carefully...especially after having wrongly judged another business owner about a supposedly “unethical” practice.
Yep—I did that!
Here’s what happened.
I had been diving deep into the ethical marketing world and had heard (and then believed) that any use of countdown timers was completely unethical.
But then, some time later, I heard another business owner talking about how to make businesses more inclusive for global audiences. She mentioned tips on how to make it easier for people in multiple time zones to access your offerings.
One of the things she mentioned using in her business was countdown timers for online events happening at a specific time so that people in other time zones didn’t have to scramble and research to figure out what time the event was happening in their own part of the world.
And when heard that, I suddenly felt very humbled. Why?
Because I knew for SURE I'd spoken negatively about using countdown timers in the past and had described them as a manipulative pressure tactic—quickly judging other business owners for using them.
But did I ever stop to think that someone might have a perfectly good—and even THOUGHTFUL—reason for using them?
No. I had rigidly looked at a list of rules and decided it was always wrong.
Hearing that this thoughtful business owner used a so-called "manipulative" tool in a really kind way made me realize that I needed to stop and make sure I don't judge other business owners too quickly. Just because someone in the “ethical marketing space” has decided that they have the full list of what is ethical and what isn’t, it doesn’t make it an absolute truth.
Sure, there are still some things in my marketing that I choose to not do because they seem sketchy. But I’m not about to pre-determine a long list of rules that others will be judged by to determine whether they’re truly an ethical business owner or not. I need to leave room for nuance.
Instead of making sure everyone follows a long list of rules, I’ve decided to simply take note of the things I do or don’t appreciate—and then make sure I’m following the Golden Rule in my own business.
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Hi, I’m Kendall! I'm a freelance proofreader and social media graphics creator. I started this blog to highlight the lives of women in business to inspire others, but now I also use it to share business tips and resources for women who want to build their business in a heart-centered way.