One of the best classes I took in college was Ethics.
It was a tremendous class filled with interesting readings, demanding essays and intellectually stimulating exams. I learned so much from this class and was very fortunate to have taken it.
Near the end, the professor of the class unceremoniously and most directly hit-on-me, after class, in a shocking bite of ironical bliss. Alas, sometimes even the best chefs can't even follow their own recipes.
So what the hell does this have to do with marketing ethics? Nothing really, I just find it an interesting anecdote.
However, let's take a look at some ethical approaches you may or may not wish to exercise in your own marketing. Either way, everybody has ethics the way everybody has a heart. Just some work differently than others. For example, mine has an intense regime of cigar smoking to contend with.
Let's go through the numbers:
Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead. The catharsis of this book is man's ego is the fountainhead of all discovery. Essentially this code of ethics centers around self-serving, selfishness, self-centeredness, and every other word you can find that starts with "self." The basic premise is man/woman should stop at nothing to accomplish one's goals.
This is sort of like the rule of the jungle, except it is more based on greed than survival. Basically this means that you can spam your competitor's website, lie to your customers, cheat your investors and walk all over your partners in the interest of market dominance and profit. If you're a sociopath, this may be the code of ethics for you. If you want repeat business, I would advise steering clear of this one.
I love this one. The goal of utilitarianism is the greater good. Casualties of war die for the greater good. The streets are packed with homeless people allegedly for the greater good. And your communicating to your customer is all related to the... greater good?
Well, that certainly depends doesn't it? After all, many social vices penetrate our young minds in the form of the largest marketing budgets of all time. Ahem- cigarettes!
I think the best code of ethics comes from the golden rule (do onto others as you would have them do onto you), and allowing each person to be their own moral agent.
The latter means the practice of giving every person one deals with as much information as feasibly possible in the interest of making their own moral judgment. Now there are times when this is simply not practical. For example, giving correct information to the Nazi's on the whereabouts of local Jewish people in-hiding.
And that is the point. One must be morally pragmatic in the interest of accurately informing your customers, while considering what is best for them and you. I believe the best kinds of promotions are ones that accurately describe a product/service, while shamelessly advocating its benefit.
At the end of the day, having a moral compass of one who values their customers and respects their decision-making will be most useful in acquiring new customers, and maintaining them.
Don't compete — DOMINATE.
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Matt Steffen was Listed by Forbes as the #1 Marketing Consultant Who Avoids the B.S.