Our Blog

Setting a marketing ethics guideline for your business

There has been a ton of pressure on businesses and brands in 2020 to serve as moral arbiters this year. Or for brands to at least take the appearance of having a moral stance on issues.

Plenty of brands began pushing away from Facebook because of the “site’s failure to stop the spread of hate,” according to CNN. It definitely has, y’know, nothing to do with the fact that returns on Facebook’s advertising platform have been plummeting during a pandemic and a recession that’s rapidly snowballing into a depression, I’m sure.

My argument to businesses: make a marketing ethics guideline. Before you desperately need it. Then, here’s a thought….actually follow through on it.

What’s a marketing ethics guide?

Well, you know how a business ideally sets its vision, mission and goals for the company early on?

Just do that. But for your marketing. Namely by thinking through and identifying what methods of growth you might not feel okay with in the short-term or in the long-term.

What’s an example?

Why, that’s a great question. Very kind of you to ask. 

One of the companies we’ve been able to work with for a few years now is Plaine Products, a sustainable e-commerce business dedicated to the elimination of single-use plastics. They started out selling personal hair care products like shampoo and conditioner in aluminum, refillable (and returnable) bottles but are continually growing into much, much more than that.

We put this out on the company’s blog in 2019:


Now, this was a big risk. And there was a lot of flak for it. But by putting it public, it held us accountable to our claims and more importantly, it’s served as a moral compass for when new opportunities pop up.

Plaine Products is known for its social entrepreneurship and eco-activist roots. We had to decide early how to align our marketing efforts with our sustainability efforts. Being a sustainable brand sending out wasteful junk mail/direct mail causes cognitive dissonance and is just…super hypocritical.

It took a strong team to think forward but in a crazy year like 2020, this document has helped keep the brand on an accountable path.

So how do I figure this out for my business without plastering it up on our blog?

Yeah that’s fair. Throwing this sort of document out to the world isn’t for every brand. To get started, though, think through these questions:

  • Do we have an existing brand guideline that points back to our mission, our vision and our values?
    • If the answer is no, by the way, it’s a good idea to make one – even if it’s just a simple guideline document.
  • What marketing tactics or strategies that we know of now that might not align well with our brand?
    • For example, if you’re a security or privacy company, you may want to be very cautious about which channels you use for advertising your message on given all of the recent breaches and ethical issues regarding end-users privacy rights.
    • If your main audience is women, Pinterest may seem like a good idea. Or maybe its treatment of its past COO or other women might make you rethink that channel.
  • Are there any particular channels or viewpoints that the leaders of the company feel strongly about that should be taken note of with regards to marketing?
    • For example, if you’re a tech organization or in the games industry, your developers and team members may have strong views on certain pieces of technology or social media platforms.
    • Sometimes, it’s helpful just to keep in mind what you appreciate or dislike as a consumer and follow the golden rule.
  • Are there any social issues or causes that are important to your brand or your leaders?
    • Identify these in advance. Talk about them in advance. Support them in advance, whether you talk about them or not.

If you go through this exercise, be aware: you may lose growth opportunities in the short-term. A big example here being retargeting.

I founded Exothermic with a few different goals in mind but one of them was that you don’t have to resort to crappy marketing tactics that screw people over in order to get your message to a relevant audience.

This may cost brands in the short-term. It’s certainly costing brands right now to opt-out of channels like Facebook or Google over what they view as right or wrong takes on situations. But you really have to do what is in alignment with your brand and your values as a business.

At the end of the day, if you’re able to stick to that and still be profitable, you’re doing your brand a favor by forsaking some lesser wins through questionable means.

And for the love of all that’s good…

Stick with your guide.

Don’t cash in on movements that don’t make sense for your brand. Marshall’s, I didn’t need to know your thoughts and feelings on the tragedy of the pandemic in early 2020. Likewise, Petsmart, I didn’t need to know that you stand with black people during the BLM efforts. It’s great to support things. But man, a lot of this stuff can really feel like an inauthentic cash-grab.

Another beautiful one within the games industry in particular is Pride Month –

It feels so fake and so gross when businesses try to latch onto something that doesn’t fit within their brand…even if it still be important for our society.

Figure this stuff out in advance and it’ll save you and your marketing efforts a world of troubles.

Contact Us

Look! We maintain our own blog! We can help you with yours, too.