Marketing and Values

Marketing and values can sometimes present a challenging equation from a company’s and an individual’s perspectives. Good marketing responds to and reflects a company’s values, but the foundation must be solid to avoid the end result resembling a mere “greenwashing” of one’s image. Have you ever found yourself, as an employee or service provider, in a situation where you’re compelled to engage in marketing that goes against your values in exchange for your paycheck?

Marketing carries responsibility

Advertising in Europe is regulated by consumer authorities and advertising ethical councils, but it’s important to remember that even if something isn’t prohibited, it doesn’t make it advisable. Basic rules of the game, such as truthfulness, non-discrimination, and operating within industry and market-specific laws, are generally straightforward to follow. However, questions of ethics and responsibility can evolve into immensely complex issues.

The premise is that irresponsible or unethical products or companies cannot be made responsible through marketing efforts. However, the ambiguity of responsibility assessment can make things difficult; marketing to minors, those in a weaker financial position, or based on factors such as certain illnesses or health conditions can be tricky issues, although not necessarily unethical or irresponsible depending on the intended purpose of the service or product being marketed.

The ultimate purpose of marketing is to influence people and their behavior and thoughts. Therefore, companies have a responsibility to market according to their values, societal norms, and good ethical principles, in addition to laws and regulations. In international marketing, it’s also important to consider that regional differences in legislation, not to mention cultural nuances, can vary significantly. Additionally, advertising platforms contribute to the mix by defining their own rules based on various criteria and in multiple ways.

Who is responsible for responsibility?

While ultimately, the company is responsible for all marketing and communication, its staff and any partners executing the marketing are practically accountable for ensuring responsibility is upheld. Those responsibilities especially entail compliance with regulations and data protection policies in advertising design and targeting across different platforms. Marketers must be familiar with the basic rules of channels and regulations (e.g., good advertising practices or GDPR) and ensure compliance, as these might not necessarily be known to company management.

Ethical dilemmas

Sometimes, individuals or partners may find themselves at odds with the values of the company being marketed. Can an individual hide behind a brand by “just doing their job” if the marketing being carried out conflicts with their own principles? The ability of an individual employee to influence a company’s values is often limited, especially if the conflicts relate to fundamental characteristics of the company or product, such as its purpose or target audience. In such cases, it’s essential to reflect on one’s ethics and consider whether they are willing to compromise their principles for a paycheck.

The responsibility of a partner may be broader than that of an individual employee, as companies can inherently choose their clients and thus reflect their values through their clients. It’s irresponsible to think that a marketing agency is “just doing their job” while operating in a gray area that contradicts standard good practices or even their principles. However, in larger companies, situations may arise where an employee of a marketing agency is required to work for a client whose actions or principles conflict with their own values. In such cases, the employee’s responsibility is to highlight the issues and address them in line with the company’s values and strategic choices. If the company believes that work is done for anyone who pays the bills, it’s up to the individual to consider whether this represents a line they are willing to support.

Identifying a responsible partner

To the extent that a marketing partner reflects their responsibility through their clients, choosing a responsible partner is also significant for any company. Several factors can assess a partner’s suitability regarding one’s values:

  • Content produced by the company (blog articles, videos, social media posts, etc.)
  • How the company presents its employees and how employees communicate about the company
  • Corporate social responsibility communication (social responsibility, environmental responsibility)
  • Financial situation
  • Transparency in processes
  • Other clients (e.g., references)

Ultimately, identifying a responsible partner is best done based on one’s ethical and moral standards. Does a potential partner seem trustworthy, and are their stated values aligned with yours? Conducting a small analysis of a potential partner and meeting their contact in person can provide insight into whether the potential partner operates responsibly enough.

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