Ethics in business is a subject many people learn about sitting in a college lecture hall listening to a professor speak about right and wrong in the business world. The term ‘business ethics’ is a term for the procedure by which the ethical principles and moral or ethical issues that arise in a business environment are examined. Business ethics guide the norms, values, ethical practices, and unethical practices that govern the business world.
An Introduction to Ethics in Digital Marketing
More and more entrepreneurs, businesses, and larger corporate conglomerates utilize digital marketing in today’s business world. Consequently, it is essential to understand and closely monitor ethical practices well when interacting and completing business transactions on a digital platform. Digital marketing, also known as Internet marketing or online marketing, is the process by which businesses promote a product, service, or brand through various online platforms. These platforms can include social media pages, mobile apps, websites, blogs, and many others. Digital marketing allows businesses to reach a broad range of potential clients without the expense and time-consuming nature of standard business advertising.
Due to the broad-based nature and expansive capabilities of digital marketing, businesses must use caution when placing their advertisements online. Depending on the industry in which your business functions, there can be countless social, ethical, and cultural considerations that you must take into account. To make sure your digital marketing strategy appeals to your target market without offending other potential website visitors.
Traditional marketing faces similar challenges to that of digital marketing. For that matter, direct marketing is one of the most controversial methods of marketing. Some common examples of traditional or direct marketing include:
- Electronic spam
All of these run against the limitations of ethical standards and legality in significant ways. Also, there are forms of direct marketing that push the boundaries of ethics by using anti-competitive practices such as bait and switch, planned obsolescence, and pyramid schemes. It is not uncommon for some of these ethical challenges typically attributed to direct marketing to also exist in a digital marketing platform.
What are the Ethical Issues in Online Marketing?
Due to the overwhelming rise in online formats as a means for conducting business, it is essential for every digital marketer to have a mechanism for monitoring ethical practices in place. This mechanism and its implementation should be in place while marketing strategies are being created. There are several items to consider when addressing the ethical aspects of a digital marketing campaign.
Is it Ethical to Use User Data to Target Advertising?
Digital marketing enables marketers to target their advertising campaigns based on specific user data and demographics. This practice requires the advertiser to use extreme caution when targeting groups in this manner. While it is not considered unethical per se, the campaign should use discretion to make sure it is not offensive or discriminatory to any group nor have any misrepresentation of a competitor product or service.
Rules of Ethics in Internet Marketing
There are many “rules,” or guidelines businesses should follow when creating online content across the various available platforms. Indeed, there are dozens of such guidelines, so we have highlighted just a few below.
The product information provided must be complete and truthful.
When advertising a product or service on social media, it is essential to be as truthful as possible. Any claims or promises made regarding a product, promotion, etc. should be fully backed. The company must be willing to take full responsibility if the product or service fails to meet claims. There are legal standards around Truth in Advertising that companies should be aware of.
Refrain from Adversity
Businesses (and their digital marketing teams) need to avoid adverse comments regarding religion, politics, ethnicity, or other emotionally charged topics on social media platforms. Failure to do so violates ethical principles’ and such controversial advertising damages the image of the brand.
Online marketing and business operations allow for significant international visibility. Selling products on a global market requires digital content creators to understand the ethics, morals, and values of other cultures. A successful (and ethical) marketing strategy in one culture may be the exact opposite in another.
In digital marketing, a company must exercise all measures to ensure they do not violate privacy rules. Data mining and extracting data wrongfully via platforms such as Facebook to create marketing campaigns violates privacy rules. Depending on the severity of privacy violations, legal difficulties could arise.
There are many other rules, or guidelines businesses should follow when engaging in digital marketing practices; the above are just a few critical excerpts to a more significant, unwritten “ethical contract” businesses should abide by when doing business online.
Ways to Uphold the Rules of Ethics of Digital Marketing
There are several ways to promote trust among your customers in the digital marketing environment.
Promote Trust with Verifiable Data
Consumers within the digital environment must trust the digital services and the data they are seeing provided by the businesses. Those who collect and manage the data must uphold the principle that integrity is assured if the information is to be valuable to consumers. For example, if you are marketing vehicles to your consumer base, you must ensure that the data you provide about your competition, your product’s capabilities and awards, and how you differentiate positively from your competitors must be supported and accurate.
Subjective advertising is when an advertiser makes subjective (based on personal opinion) claims about their products as opposed to objective claims, which are those that can be tested by consumers. Beware of subjective advertising. Because subjective statements or personal opinions are things that cannot be proven, the consistent failure of your customer base to view your product in the same manner as advertised could lead to trust problems. For example, if you are promoting the best tasting sandwich around, that’s something that can’t be readily verified by data and could lead people to question the ethics of your advertising.
Beware of False Comparisons and Exaggerated Claims
Research has shown that some advertisers will blatantly lie about how popular their product is or about the quality of their product. An excellent example of this is when telecommunications companies claim you can achieve coverage when using their product that simply doesn’t exist. When a company makes misleading or blatantly false claims about a competing brand, they are acting in an unethical manner. For example, if a local pizza company says that 9 out of 10 pizzas their competitors deliver are made inaccurately, but they have no valid proof of this, that’s a false comparison, and it is unethical.
To set yourself apart as a business that practices ethical digital marketing, you have to ensure that every aspect of your digital campaign is ethical. This includes everything from how you source your materials to the way you advertise and what you say about your competitors. It is very simple to steer off course and find yourself unwittingly violating ethical principles.
Ethical Digital Marketing is a Necessity
For consumers to feel safe shopping online in this ever-growing digital marketing world, ethical practices are essential. If businesses ignore ethical practices, a moral lapse in how business is conducted may occur. While this may not be recognized immediately when these ethical and moral failings come to light, the company’s reputation and brand image will suffer. Every company has a responsibility to its investors, buyers, employees, and others who are involved in their day-to-day business practices. Therefore, it is essential to understand the importance of including ethical principles in every marketing strategy regardless of its platform.
The most successful digital marketing companies understand the importance of working consistently on their digital marketing strategies to ensure it is in line with the ever-changing environments of the online business world. Failure to do this could impact your company’s reputation, sales, and ability to continue to grow in the digital environment.