No one likes a con artist. Over time – if not right away – customers know when they are being “had.” It can range from slightly exaggerated claims to blatant lies – and everything in between. This is unethical marketing.
On the other hand, ethical marketing is about truth and transparency. A study by Label Insight found that 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. Furthermore, 73% of consumers say they would be willing to pay more for a product from such a brand.
This brings us to MarketingCharts, a resource for marketing information and data. It tracks trends related to all things – as the name implies – marketing. It recently shared an infographic illustrating “What Best Describes Unethical Marketing.” The information came from a survey of 400 marketers in the U.S. and the UK about what they consider to be unethical marketing strategies. Here are some of the more popular answers:
· 69% said marketing that exaggerates or distorts the truth is unethical.
· 64% said marketing that targets and exploits vulnerable groups is unethical.
· 62% said marketing that conceals important information is unethical.
· 58% said marketing that is shaming is unethical.
· 56% said marketing that uses unrealistic or altered images is unethical.
· 56% said marketing that induces anxiety or fear is unethical.
· 43% said high pressure sales tactics are unethical.
There were others, but you get the idea. On the front end, if consumers recognize that they are on the receiving end of these unethical practices, they will take their business elsewhere. On the back end, after purchasing a product, if the consumer experiences any of these unethical tactics, he or she will feel duped – and may share the story on social media. These customers may tell their friends. Regardless, the experience has been ruined. The chance of repeat business from this customer is questionable, if not doubtful or ruined completely.
For example, plenty of companies have hidden fees – banks, utility companies, cable and internet companies, and more. They advertise a price but when the customer receives the bill, there are, in addition to the price, taxes and other fees the customer doesn’t understand. And when these are explained, the customer often disagrees with them.
I recently checked out of a hotel and was surprised by the daily “resort fee” that was on the bill. I wasn’t informed about this when I checked in. Maybe I missed it in the “fine print” when I made my reservation. They said the resort fee included free use of the internet and access to the gym. I’ve stayed in much more reasonably priced hotels that didn’t charge a “resort fee” for those amenities.
Here’s another example. I once worked with a printer who told me my project would be done by a certain date. When he missed the delivery date – and not by just a little bit – he said that if he had told me how long the project was actually going to take, I probably would have found someone else to print it. He was right. I found a new printer for my next project.
Part of a good customer experience is the confidence and trust the customer has in the company. Exaggerating or distorting the truth, even slightly, is a lie. Total transparency and honesty are expected – even assumed – by most. The good news is that the consumer has a way to fight back against unethical marketing. Today, the customer’s voice is louder than ever thanks to social media. Cross the customer, and the brand may find itself in a public relations nightmare.
There’s an old saying: buyer beware. Today’s version of that saying may be the reverse: company beware. If you cross your customers, they may walk. Even worse, they may talk. When they talk, it may be to more than just a few friends. It could be the next viral message that is seen by tens of thousands, or even millions. Transparency is key. Your reputation is your brand. Don’t destroy it with unethical marketing messages and customer experiences that skirt the line of good taste and ethics.