Who drives ethical marketing?
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Who drives ethical marketing?

Demand for ethical business is on the rise, and marketing must get in line. After all, regulatory checks and balances will help protect us from ourselves.   

The human brain rocks. It gave us language, art, music. Salted caramel. Velcro. Dad jokes.

But it also kind of sucks. It gets us into all sorts of trouble, making us do and buy things we know we probably shouldn’t.

Drinking. Smoking. Curly fries with extra mayo. That pre-payday pair of shoes, guiltily slipped onto store card finance.

This leads us to some hard truths – for marketing, and for humanity. Here are a few of them:

1. Our lizard-brains are screwing us over

We are constantly having the wool pulled over our eyes by our lizard brain – the oldest bit of the brain, at the stem, that was once responsible for making us scoff all the mammoth burgers during rare times of plenty and fear death-by-exclusion-from-the-tribe.

Over time, our brains have smartened up and evolved cognitive shortcuts to help us process information and experiences. They’re useful, sure. But they are shortcuts nonetheless. The lizard rules OK, which makes truly rational behaviour surprisingly difficult.

2. It’s not (just) about the shareholders

As behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman puts it: “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, but of the coherence of the story the mind has managed to construct.”

This imperfect story of the world as constructed by our mind has an unfortunate impact on our purchasing decisions – despite what Milton Friedman and other proponents of classical economics’ unencumbered market forces of would have us believe.

The point is, acting in our own self-interest does not guarantee the greater good. It’s ludicrously easy to convince people to buy stuff that won’t do them or the community any favours. All it takes is a sneaky advertiser to push the right (wrong) brain buttons.

If a company labours under the misapprehension that its only duty is to its shareholders, eventually there will be no consumers left to profit from.

3. We have to smoke out the bad actors

Therefore, as advertising becomes ever cleverer, reaching ever more consumers in new ways over new channels, it’s becoming increasingly important for us to introduce checks and balances. To market products and services ethically. To protect us from ourselves.

It’s no coincidence that tobacco consumption drops by an average of 7% after a country bans advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products (World Health Organisation, 2013). 

‘Regulation’ may not be the sexiest word in the marketing lexicon, but it might just be the most noble. In a world where rational thought is no guarantee, the regulators set frameworks for ethical marketing that’s designed to trigger rational cognitive processes.

4. Marketing must become mindful

Meditation has moved from monks to mainstream. London’s latest free magazine, the mindfulness-centric Balance, is rocketing off the newsstands. Office yoga is now de rigueur. Meditation apps like Headspace are among the fastest-growing app categories. Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has sold millions of copies. The average consumer is officially on a mission to take control of their renegade lizard-brain.

So where does this all leave us as marketers?

If humans are so easily tricked by the interaction between adverts and our imperfect brains, perhaps “ethical marketing” is a paradox, an impossibility? Should we hang up the towel and hand in our badges?

In a word, no. Though we’re no more rational as a species than we were a few centuries ago, we are at least waking up to our cognitive shortcomings. That’s got to be good news for humanity at large.

Consumer demand for ethical considerations is on the rise, and marketing must follow suit. These are two sides of the same coin. When ethical products and services are marketed ethically, everyone benefits – shareholders, consumers and communities alike.

Looking to take your career to the next level? The new CIM Marketing Leadership Programme, which has been designed to provide senior marketers the platform they need to drive meaningful change and business growth, could be the right choise for you.

Corissa Nunn Freelance Journalist
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