I consider myself an ethical marketer, just as I consider myself an ethical person. Have I made mistakes? Sure. Have I positioned certain facts in a light that supported my message? Guilty. Yet, I’ve never outright lied when it comes to marketing. I believe in the notion that my job is to find people with a need or problem that my product/service can solve and get them to know, like and trust in my company’s ability to fill that void. Following that line of thinking has kept me out of the dark waters that many in marketing often tread in. As businesses or organizations we have stories to tell, and good stories hit on emotional triggers that may help to compel someone to buy what we are marketing, but those stories should highlight larger truths about life after purchase.
Sadly, I have a friend who is also in marketing, and as one of his final acts at a particular job he’s being asked to shepherd through a project whose message is at it’s core a lie. Not a manipulation of numbers, not someone taking literary license to get at a larger truth, an outright manipulation of facts. Keep in mind, he didn’t write this or come up with the idea, it’s a matter of getting the final product produced and shipped. As an ethical marketer, he finds it troubling. As an ethical person, it is painful. As someone with a wife and daughter who look up to him, it’s embarrassing. He has spent a lot of his own creative capital in helping to build a brand that provided value to the market through thought leadership, advice on best-practices, win-win relationships, all on a platform of truthful messaging.
There are two sides to marketing, one is cheap, it’s based on manipulation, obfuscation and deception. It’s the variety that gives marketing, and business in general a bad name. It plays a role in the erosion of trust our society has in businesses to do good things in the world. It can’t win in the long run, at least I hope it doesn’t. Maybe I’m naive, or an idealist, but if being unethical is the end result than I’d just assume stay that way. The other side of marketing is spreading your message by truthfully and forcefully telling your story. Speaking to those with a problem that you can solve and ultimately solving that problem. You won’t need to lie. It takes creative energy, it takes more work, but that work is meaningful, and at the end of the day it’s far more rewarding and your business will build incredible relationships with the customers who you respected enough to be truthful with.