Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 9

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Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Selling with Sex.

This week’s topic: Paying Influencers

Influencer marketing is all the rage these days. Whether or not it works, and is worth the money, is the subject of another post, and not the intention of this series. We want to know, what are the ethical considerations involved?

Influencer marketing is the modern day combination of product placement and celebrity spokesperson. Companies actively seek out people who have a large and engaged social media following and contract with them to promote their product – usually in the form of paid posts across a variety of social media channels.

Ethical questions are involved when it is not made clear that a company is paying to have their product promoted.

For example, most of us know that when a star athlete is wearing clothing with a big Nike swoosh on it, Nike is paying them to do it. We also know that when a movie goes out of its way to show the Ford logo on its main character’s car, Ford is paying for that pleasure.

But what about the fashion company paying the style coach on Instagram to feature their latest pieces? If they don’t admit to being paid, that person’s followers are being misled. Even if the fashion brand does make great clothing, and even if the style coach would have featured it anyway, the fact that they are being paid changes the nature of the relationship.

It is important for any brand that is going to pay people to use and/or promote their products to confront this reality. You may not want your influencers to tell people they are being paid to do what they’re doing, but if they don’t, all you are doing is tricking your potential customers.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 8

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Deceptive Advertising.

This week’s topic: Selling with Sex

The cliché has it that “sex sells”. Any serious study of this myth has shown definitively that “sex doesn’t sell”. Instead, sex grabs your attention and makes you remember. But the sad news for marketers and advertisers using sex to sell is that all you remember is the sex, and not the brand or what they’re selling. And there is no correlation between seeing sexually-provocative ads and likelihood of purchasing the product they were selling.

But that doesn’t stop brands from using sex in their marketing. So the question here is whether or not it’s ethical.

In the United States, we live in a more prudish society than many European countries or those of Latin America, which are much more open to sexually-explicit imagery across the board. However, the US has opened up in recent decades, and remains well ahead of the openness of most Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

So as a society, we tend to be more open to brands using sex to sell to us than we used to. However, brands who engage in this type of marketing must be careful not to cross ethical lines.

For example, consumers are more alert to companies’ objectification of women or pushing trite gender stereotypes. Parents still want to protect their young children from exposure to overtly sexual imagery. And so brands would do well not to go for shock. It has the potential to backfire in ways that cause more harm than good, in the end.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 7

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Ad Targeting.

This week’s topic: Deceptive Advertising

You can’t make deliberately false claims in your advertising. There are laws against that. And if you get caught and charged, the fines are sometimes enough to put you out of business. Even if they don’t, the negative press might. So don’t do it.

But what if you’re just overstating the benefits a little? Or using vague language that is not technically a lie?

No company will admit in public that they employ these kinds of deceptive advertising practices. But the truth is, many do. And as a marketer or small business owner, you need to determine how far you are willing to go and when to draw the line.

Some examples of deceptive advertising practices include:

  • Bait and switch – advertising an offer to get customers in the door or on the phone only to tell them that offer is no longer available
  • False environmental claims – stating that your product is better for the environment when it is actually not
  • Overstating benefits – making unsubstantiated claims about the impact of your product or service
  • Misleading comparisons – comparing your product to another in a way that makes customers think they’re more similar than they are
  • Photography tricks – using photos in your advertising that look nothing like what customers will actually see when they buy your product
  • Hidden fees – advertising a price that is far lower than the final price a consumer will pay

The key point to remember is that though some of these strategies may work in the short term, they will always hurt a brand in the long run. Consumers are not dumb, and they like to share stories of deception with their friends. You will develop a reputation for scamming people and eventually, your sales will suffer.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 6

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Price Consistency.

This week’s topic: Ad Targeting

The general principle of modern advertising is this – you want to show the right ad, to the right person, at the right time. That’s what we talk about when we talk about targeted advertising.

Digital tools give marketers the ability to customize, or personalize, advertising in a number of interesting ways. First, we can show different ads to different people based on what we know about who you are. For example, men and women might see different versions of the same ad.

Second, we can show ads to people based on something unique about you. For example, you might see an ad for a cable subscription right after you move into your new home.

Ad targeting is the Holy Grail for marketers and companies right now, because the ones who get it right are able to dramatically increase their return on investment. Not only does it save money by no longer advertising to people who are not likely to purchase, but it also increases the effectiveness of the ads served because they are more relevant.

The question is, when does targeting cross the line? It is easy to see that there are lines that can be crossed. For example:

·         You might target ads for high-risk financial products to people with low incomes

·         You might target ads for alcohol-related products to someone you know has a drinking problem

·         You might target ads based on race or religion

It might be tempting for marketers to defend how they’re advertising when they can point to success in terms of revenue generated. But you cross the line when the nature of your advertising has detrimental effects on the people you are targeting.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 5

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Competitor Spying.

This week’s topic: Price Consistency

Pricing is an important topic for marketers to learn more about, made even more important due to the fact that is commonly overlooked as a lever we have at our disposal. But pricing decisions do not come without ethical considerations.

Under the subject of pricing consistency, one can run into several ethical problems. Many of us think that if we offer a product, that product has a price. It’s simple. That product costs X.

But that’s not always how it works. Many companies practice some degree of variable pricing.

There are legal issues in variable pricing. For example, it was quite common in the past for companies to charge black people more than whites. That’s illegal. And before the Affordable Care Act outlawed this practice, it was common for health insurers to charge sick people more than healthy people.

Then there are variable pricing strategies which are still perfectly legal. Amazon made headlines early in their rise to dominance in the ecommerce space when it was discovered that the pricing users see on their website doesn’t always match what other users see. That’s because Amazon uses pricing algorithms to determine what price they can charge you as an individual in order to get you to purchase a product. The goal is to charge as much as possible, so that they can maximize their profit.

Many B2B companies and auto dealerships offer customized pricing models, where the price someone pays depends on features and negotiating skills. And B2C companies regularly uses special offers and discounts that are available to only a select audience (for example, email subscribers or loyalty program members).

So where do we draw the line? As long as what you’re doing is legal, it is up to each company to set their own rules around pricing consistency.

To help you, determine how you would explain your pricing strategy to a customer who feels ripped off. If you can’t do it in a way that would make sense to them, you’re probably outside of your ethical comfort zone.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.