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The Ethical Dilemma Marketers Face

Mikaela Kantorowski

Digital Strategist

The world has changed, and I think marketing has played a big role in that. Every day you watch ads on your TV, see posts on social media, and listen to spots probably put together by advertisers. Nothing is exempt from the touch of marketing or advertising in one way or another. 

This example may be a bit extreme, but there will undoubtedly be times in your career when you will be tasked with marketing a product or pitching an angle that you don’t necessarily agree with. After all, it isn’t only your job to pitch that product or create that ad targeting a specific group, but also to do it well.

It isn’t just content that can sometimes toe the line of marketing ethics. While the goal of marketing is to inspire consumers to invest in a product or service, it can be easy to cross the line from subliminal messaging into emotional manipulation. What happens when you find yourself in a position where you’re taking advantage of your audience – or, even worse, outright misleading them?

So, what do you do? What would YOU do?

Marketing is no simple task. At the end of the day, the objective of advertising is to reach as many eyes and ears as possible, but it is also important to remember that how you get there matters. It can be easier than you think to fall into the trap of using stereotypes, unfounded claims or misleading images in your campaign. When developing your own marketing strategy, be sure to stay away from making unverified comparisons or claims, and always maintain transparency with your audience. In a seller-consumer relationship, trust is always a more powerful (and more ethical!) tool than manipulation. 

Of course, there may come a situation where you don’t have much strategic input and are asked to use unethical tactics; if you are presented with this dilemma, is it ethically right to walk away? Or should you continue the work you were hired to do? This is a much more difficult discussion to have, and there isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all answer. 

Understanding your personal standards and principles is important, but it can also be helpful to hear from other marketers when navigating tough ethical situations. Have you faced this in your career? How have you handled it?