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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Paving the Way to Ethical Marketing

Since the emergence of mass-marketing and public relations in the 1920’s, marketing & advertising disciplines have been making giant progresses almost every year. The art of reaching and convincing millions of people into buying a product, a service, creating needs out of nowhere, or electing never-heard-of-before politicians, has become a complex yet very efficient science. A science boosted by tech innovations like the massive adoption  of radio, television, the Internet, mobile communication, smartphones, big data and now: Artificial Intelligence.

But that scientific technology , unlike most others, also came out of the box with little ethical guidelines and boundaries.

With Great Power Came No Responsibility:

While most marketers may not think they’re lying outright about their product or services (most countries’ laws prohibits it anyway so there is a boundary there), it is still commonly accepted that twisting the truth creatively, tapping into  fear or negative emotions, showing an alternate reality to sell is ok… just as long as profit is made or, when it comes to politics, victory is achieved. After all, History is always written by the victors. Truth telling in advertising is a bit of a luxury. A notable exception. Not the norm.

And if it hurts people mentally, emotionally, or fosters fear, anger, hate or jealousy along the way, well … so be it. That’s gotta be ok if it is legal. Right?

NOT RIGHT

Once you take off your “quarterly report goggles” and agree (at least in theory) that the pursuit of profit does not justify everything, including hurting others, then it becomes obvious that some practices are just “not OK”. At Positive Solutions, we believe it is the responsibility of marketers (whether at brands or agencies) to set positive boundaries, techniques, privacy, creative approaches and self-regulations to not hurt their audience (emotionally or mentally), especially with the incredibly powerful communication tools and techniques they now have at their disposal and which keeps increasing in breadth, sophistication, power, speed and performance every day.

With great power, comes great responsibility.

How? By taking the high ground. By embracing a set of ethical communications rules that will not only be beneficial to your audiences, but also help you sell better and generate a higher brand adoption and engagement in the long run.

HOW?

By doing 3 essential things:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Use positive communication codes
  3. Aim to make a positive difference

TELL THE TRUTH 

Surprisingly, this may be the most difficult thing to do.

An extreme example of “don’t ever do that” would be that of Purdue Pharma or Johnson & Johnson (allegedly) and their aggressive marketing of opioids – a strategy of lies   that directly contributed to killing tens of thousands of people. And still do. That’s as bad as it gets for a brand.

To a lesser level, for example, if you tell your audience they should drink Coca Cola because “Coke Adds Life” or because you can “Open Happiness” with it well, you are still telling a blatant lie. This is what that brand did for years.

Image courtesy of Andre Benz

If you actually look into a can of Coke, all you will find is a sticky dark carbonated liquid, high in sugar and caffeine, and mildly  addictive to some, which is likely to contribute to creating more obesity than it does actually create happiness. The factual truth is that the “most drank soda in the world” will only create a temporary rush of senses by rising sugar and caffeine levels in the blood, but it may NOT “add life” nor help “open happiness”.

So how do you sell a product that is not “technically” beneficial to its users? Well, one plain and simple  answer is “you don’t”. That is if you have a choice, the luxury to choose your clients (and not accept that high-paying contract with a weapons manufacturer), or your job (like us at Positive Solutions ;-). hat is where we should all aim to  be going anyways in the long run, in our humble opinion.

Often times we don’t have a choice and must sell that product. In that case, use true and verifiable facts and figures that appeal to common positive values and that are actually embodied by/in your product/service. In the above example of Coke, it may be the taste, history, pop culture, colors, habits, physical rush, or any array of actual creative qualities that are ‘true’ in life and resonate as such in your audience’s mind. Who can deny Coke is part of our pop culture, whether we drink it or not?!  Telling the truth always pays off, because people know better, intuitively, and reward honesty.

USE POSITIVE COMMUNICATION CODES 

Emotions sell. That much is clear.

While brands typically sell solutions to physical problems (like thirst, hunger, cold, time, performance, analytics…), consumers buy the same solutions to quench their emotional challenges (ego, power, love, looks, taste, acceptance, confusion, play etc.).

While using negative emotions to sell may be the fastest way to profit (see our recent post: Negativity Sticks but Positivity Sells, fear-based, feel-bad or inadequacy marketing,fostering a sense of fear, inadequacy, or a negative emotion, is hurtful to your audience or your customers’ psyche. Short and long term. Pushing negative feelings promotes depression in a world that is already weighed down  a huge majority of negative news, every single day. And it hasn’t proven to be 100% effective either. Think of fear-based campaigns against smoking, drunk driving, drugs… Not that effective so far.

So here is an innovative idea: stay away from fear and negativity in your communication. Push the positive envelope by helping your audience and your employees feel good. Appeal to positive qualities, positive emotions. Engage in a positive narrative, tell a better story.

Image courtesy of Tim Marshall

Recent research shows that over 80% of American consumers prefer a brand that supports a positive cause or is driven by a positive purpose over a brand that is not.  Also, employees are almost 600% more effective when motivated by positive comments and encouragement than negative ones.

There are countless examples popping up every day now to show the benefits of happiness, positive psychology and wellbeing in business and in the workplace.

AIM TO MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE 

Now this is the real driver. Focus your communication to make a measurable positive impact in your market, your community, your world, THE world.

According to a 2018 study by Cone, Porter Novelli/Cone 78% of Americans believe companies must do more than just make money; they must positively impact society as well.

Possibly following a sense of distrust after much negative communications aimed at governments and established social organizations, consumers are now looking up to brands to tackle social subjects like the environment, racial equality, equal pay, healthcare and the like. The Rise of the Conscious Consumer, a white paper we wrote and published earlier this year and which draws from over 15 reputable studies describes this phenomenon in detail.

Data now abunds to prove that “purpose is the new black” in business and that brand adoption and engagement is on the rise for purpose-driven companies.

But the ultimate indication of a possible new era, in our opinion, is the recent pledge signed by 181 CEOs from the Business Roundtable, a public policy organization made of a coalition of CEOs from brands like Amazon, Walmart, JPMorgan, Chase and Apple (hardly what you would call nonprofits-volunteers), who pledged to promote high-level goals such as considering customers, the environment, employees, suppliers and the community at large.

Now, did they see the light all of a sudden?

Or are they following what their customers want and what research institutes them them?

Let’s say “both” and call it a positive solution 🙂

By | 2019-09-18T17:10:58+00:00 September 18th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Thierry Daher
Thierry Daher is an innovation-driven creative executive, a film & event producer and tech entrepreneur, with a proven track-record in breaking new grounds through innovative ideas and digital marketing strategies. Thierry currently serves as Founder & Managing Director of Positive Solutions, an international talent management agency & production company dedicated to promote positive thinkers who aim to make the world a better place.

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