Why aren’t people doing ethical marketing?

Simon asking "Why isn’t everyone doing it?"

Life is not so much about what you do as how you do it.

Likewise, ethical marketing is not about what you sell, it’s all about how you sell it.

Ethical marketing is truthful, transparent, and builds trust.

Your marketing is ethical when you talk about your work and attract clients without using psychological tactics, tricks, pressure, fear or deception.

Sounds good. Sounds reasonable. But take a look online and it’s obvious that far from everybody is doing it. Some days it feels as if nobody’s doing it!

Why not? Where are all the ethical marketers?

The status quo lingers on – that’s what a status quo does

Most business and media platforms are still based on the ‘classic’ marketing model – buyer manipulation.

It’s a hangover from the industrial era – focused on capturing attention, creating urgency, pushing for a sale – and it’s still prevalent. Yes, there are signs of change but the norm is still interruption of your attention with adverts (or allowing you to pay to skip the ads).

After all, there’s money tied up in not changing. Change means effort and risk. And the cost of not changing is rarely measured in money so people see change as the high-cost option.

And why would the world’s privileged want to change? The status quo got them where they are – any costs or consequences of maintaining the status quo are someone else’s problem.

People tend to follow the path of least resistance and that’s the status quo. To go against the flow – to be ethical – requires more effort.


I believe that more people would like to make ethical marketing choices.

Maybe they don’t see an opportunity to do so, or don’t know how but they want to.

But change still happens

The status quo may be doing everything it can to resist change but things still change, often without people even realising.

An example: TV advertising

Most households still have a TV but its marketing dominance has altered. In the US, YouTube reaches more people aged 18-49 than all TV networks combined. (Source: Nielsen) This is down to the ubiquity of personal devices and how people access media (and therefore marketing) differently.

Changes in available technology and how we use it enables has forced a shift in how we get people’s attention and engage them with our products and services; for some, that shift has been in an ethical direction.

Another example: influencer marketing

This is definitely not the status quo. Influencers are online authorities in their area of specialist interest who recommend and endorse products to their many followers. On social media, the recommendation model is seen as being far more trustworthy than a traditional brand ad – besides people often just scroll past or block online ads. Whereas personal recommendations and referrals are extremely powerful.

Whatever you think of influencers, they can be very effective, whilst not particularly ethical. They’re often being paid to promote products and places, and I explored that murky world in a recent video.

Because the influencer knows their audience and its demands, the promotion feels very different to a traditional paid ad. It feels much more personal.

The key thing about these 2 examples is that they don’t need the status quo, they grew and continue to grow on new platforms that are outside of the more traditional status quo systems. So whilst both these examples are not great examples of “ethical marketing” they are at least examples of the fact that the status quo can be changed and challenged.

Don’t worry, your ethical voice will still be heard

When your brand is you, you don’t have to tie your marketing to outdated thinking. You’re free to be creative and true to yourself because you don’t have to satisfy investor or shareholder interests.

It’s easier to make ethical decisions when you’re the sole decision-maker.

When you use more ethical marketing techniques – being open about what you’re offering and why, and not trying to con or pressure your way to a sale – you will attract clients who are ready to work with you and willing to put the necessary time and effort in.

This means the product or service you deliver, post-purchase, is much more likely to be effective and appreciated because with clients like this, the work is more likely to produce results.

This is you having an impact. Without manipulation.

So, forget the status quo. Be a pioneer and market yourself ethically. Just because few others are doing it doesn’t mean you can’t

In fact, that’s a great reason to be more ethical – you’ll stand out because you’re telling your story in a fresh and different way. Honestly.

This is what I found when I started talking about ethical marketing – people tell me all the time that what I say and the way I say it is a breath of fresh air.

So you can make a difference.

You can lead the change and stand out from the crowd.

That’s exactly what the world needs right now: people having an impact, inspiring, teaching, motivating, and shifting perspectives.

The impact this can have on a client means they are more likely to refer others to you, leading to you having an impact with even more people. The ethical cycle continues and the effects grow and grow.

What’s more, the people you work with may even be inspired by you to change their own perspective, to look for ways they can have a more ethical impact on the world around them.

Your ethical marketing leads by example and the ripples spread outwards, into society.

If this blog post has got you thinking about your marketing strategy, then you might be interested in my book Reframing Marketing. It’s a 3-step plan to making an effective and ethical marketing plan that doesn’t reply on industrial-era thinking. It’s full of exercises and ideas to help you do your marketing in a manageable and enjoyable (and ethical!) way.

You can find out more and order your copy at reframingmarketing.com