Not sure if you’ve noticed but the world is changing and it’s happening fast. What we value about a company is shifting with cultural trends.
What this means for a modern business is that a profit-first mentality is no longer, well, profitable. Millennials have become powerhouse spenders and they are choosing to put their money behind companies they trust and that share their values. This signals that more than ever, we need to pay attention to ethics in advertising.
This article will be an examination of unethical marketing practices, how to avoid them, and what ethical practices you should be adopting. Navigating digital marketing in these changing times can be difficult, but we can give you the knowledge you need to stay ahead of the game.
Overpromising is the fastest way to underachieve. Exaggeration in ad copy doesn’t only come off unprofessional and dishonest, but if your product doesn’t match the expectation, you are sure to lose returning clients.
If you are promising that the product you are marketing has a certain effect, you need to explain how exactly you achieved those results. People will not trust claims made without supporting evidence.
This one seems obvious but it’s more common than you might think. Posing the assumption that any particular group of people behaves in a certain way as a means to relate to your audience is one of the fastest ways to lose them. Instead, present your problems as universal as possible, and let your product be the solution.
Old Western movies were not known for the moral ambiguity of their bad guys. As if tying damsels to railroad tracks was not clue enough, filmmakers made it quite easy to tell who the villains were by making them wear black hats. From this Hollywood trope came the term ‘black hat’ which intends to elicit images of a professional who lacks scruples or a strong ethical compass.
In the context of online marketing, black hat strategies are those that purposely ignore or violate search engine terms of service to increase a page’s search engine rank.
In certain cases, these marketers achieve some results, but they are often short-lived because these deceptive business practices are not designed for sustained, long-term success.
SEO is a slow process, so if your business recently hired a digital marketing agency and you start seeing results right away, that might be a red flag. You should inquire about their approach and keep an eye out for these common black hat strategies:
Cloaking is the practice of showing different content to search engines than that which you show to users. This is a violation of Google’s guidelines because it gives users results that they did not expect. It’s a way to rank high for keywords that your content might not necessarily be about.
A snippet is a small bit of information that displays underneath search engine results – they look like this:
Some companies use paid online services to change their snippet to reflect fake reviews or misleading information to bait a click out of users.
This is a less common practice since Google updated its algorithm to ignore links in comment sections. However, unethical marketers would not scoff at spamming links to a website in the blog comments as a means to drive-up traffic.
This one is especially egregious because it requires a willing and aggressive lack of originality. Many companies are willing to ignore the quality of the content in favor of quantity to trick search engines into raising the ranks of certain websites.
Keyword stuffing is a staple of poor-quality content and thankfully, Google has cracked down on this in recent years.
The dirty truth about black hat practices is that they can actually be effective in the short term. This attracts lazy marketers to using these stratagems so they can promise clients unsustainable outcomes. However, search engines are constantly updated and getting better at recognizing these violations and if you’re caught, you can face some hefty penalties like a drastic drop in rankings or outright getting banned.
Now that you know what to avoid, let’s go over what ethical marketing practices your business can start deploying to build trust with your audience.
First, we have to make clear that ethical advertisement is not a strategy, it is a philosophy that should leave a footprint in all your marketing initiatives. Ethical advertisement is characterized by promoting honesty, fairness, and responsibility.
Most people will depart from a brand entirely if they perceive them to be unethical. It follows that your brand will gain some loyal clients if they feel like you reflect their principles.
There are a few examples of companies that have taken this to heart. Namely, Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” push which intended to change the way people approached purchasing clothes.
One of the best methods to earn the trust of your clients or potential customers is by assuring them that their purchase means something more.
Donating a small percentage of revenue to a cause that elevates your business or offering a lifetime guarantee on certain products will position you as an ethical leader in your industry.
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