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Ethical Considerations for Marketers

Marketers don’t often have to discuss the ethics of their work. But they should! There’s a lot to marketing, and there are a lot of ethical issues around tactics used.

If you have any experience with psychology, you may have run into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a time or two.

The ideas around needs are preeminent when it comes to marketing ethics.

Also up for consideration are providing real versus perceived value, balancing the needs of individuals in the community, and the ethics of certain marketing tactics when all other fair conditions are met.

  • A major ethical consideration for marketers is selling too much of something that isn’t needed.
  • Steering clear of predatory tactics toward people who self-medicate with shopping is important.
  • Considering the value of selling something that is needed versus something that is wanted matters also.

Want Versus Need

What do people really need? When marketers sell, are they being honest about what is needed? Are they considering the importance of recognizing both wants and needs in a responsible and meaningful way?

We all know what it’s like to try to buy something we want. Some of us have experienced the difficult situation of explaining what we want and being sold something that is definitely what we don’t want!

Considering the issues in that type of circumstance, it’s easy to see that what the customer wants and what they need are both important. But reason and concern for people’s well-being is key.

Just because people want a specific thing, it doesn’t mean they are entitled to it. They definitely aren’t entitled to cheat businesses or other customers by refusing to pay a fair price or changing the price for themselves only, for example.

Some people without strong ethics do try to buy things that they shouldn’t be buying. The black market and the dark web are prime examples of just how out of control people’s wish lists can get.

A Fair Buying Process for the Community

On a community level, antitrust law and taxes on things like alcohol represent the importance of making sure that buying processes are fair and profitable.

It’s not enough to sell the right things at a fair market price. Marketers also have to sell things in an ethical way, considering how much work is imposed on the community and whether the item is healthy in various quantities.

One of the most important ethical considerations for marketers is using fear-based tactics. Marketers always need to be aware of how they are selling.

Scaring people into buying or not buying certain products (say, a competitor’s) is not ethical. It chips away at the tenets of free will and choice.

Marketers also have a strong consideration around selling too much of one thing without regard for another. For example, how ethical is it to sell four or five pairs of shoes to people using aggressive marketing tactics while heavily taxing groceries or making them hard to find?

Buyers’ needs are a comprehensive consideration. Some things are needs insomuch as we don’t supply them in excess. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Selling Reality

Lastly, there is the consideration of selling solid things versus selling something that is more abstract. Some brands are well known for selling the value they assign to a product. In essence, they are selling their own opinion!

Recognizing fair market price is always a consideration. This is true whether the good is a necessity or a luxury, a service or a good. Things have very real production costs and value. Honesty is important when it comes to valuing goods and services.

When marketers get into the ethics of selling a good feeling or cache rather than a definable item or service, there’s a lot more to consider. A customer may want to buy a good feeling or cache. In some cases, meeting this demand is ethical.

In other cases, especially when it comes to being honest about manufacturing processes, the lines become blurry. Modern society could certainly use some more discussion around what kinds of luxury is ethical to sell and why.

It goes without saying that selling luxury at the expense of the earth we live on is its own discussion. Marketers should consider the balance of meeting market demand, trying to sell something that is ethically made, and realizing when a product is truly harmful to others and our sustainable future.


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