Do you know how to use marketing data that you collect ethically? Is it possible to collect consumer information and use it transparently? What tools do you need to have? Are there any pieces of ethics legislation or code that marketers have to abide by?
Undoubtedly, digital platforms have ushered the marketing industry into a new era. The new age of marketing revolves around collecting information from consumers and using it to elaborate better advertising campaigns. But, with 65% of marketers struggling to use this data ethically, it’s important to handle this information appropriately and avoid exploiting it in any way. Therefore, it’s important to focus on ethics at every step of the marketing strategy creation process.
Stephen has a BSc in computer science focused on cryptography and worked in a range of London tech startups in data security for five years before turning his hand to writing. He aims to educate and inform people about the often opaque world of marketing and cybersecurity and help everyone be a little bit safer online. When not saving the world from hackers and fraudsters, he’s a gamer, esports fan, and avid TV binger.
In this article, he shares the 13 biggest ethical ethic challenges surrounding digital marketing. We’ll also discuss a potential solution for each challenge, like partnering with the right developer for your needs and creating a WordPress site with high standards. This will help you create an ethical digital marketing strategy for your business.
13 Global Challenges to Ethical Digital Marketing and Proposed Solutions
The benefits of digital marketing have been studied since the early days of pay-per-click (PPC) and email marketing. However, over the last decade, the focus shifted to digital marketing ethics.
One of the reasons why digital marketing is so effective is that it can be adapted to the target audience’s preferences. Digital channels also allow for the extensive collection of consumer data, bringing its own security challenges.
Here are 13 of the biggest ethical issues with digital marketing and a proposed solution for each challenge.
1. Compromised Privacy
Maintaining high levels of privacy is a major concern for everyone.
Virtual companies collect and handle private information from digital users regularly. This means that digital consumers are more likely to have their right to privacy breached
This creates an ethical conundrum for companies collecting the data, as they may inadvertently compromise their customer’s data.
An elegant way to fix this is to create a privacy-centric data collection and processing system.
Identify the different data collection points and create a system whereby data is encrypted and stored in a safe setting.
This will ensure that the client information you collect is not compromised, even if third parties monitor the connection. Having your customers’ data safe is paramount for ethical digital marketing.
2. Inaccurate or False Reviews
False reviews are a great way to sway the opinion of consumers. However, one of the biggest problems is that a percentage of these reviews are not legitimate.
Some companies give competitors negative reviews in order to discourage customers from choosing rival providers. This creates an ethical problem as the online information of a company available online is not always accurate.
The solution to this problem is not that simple. In short, brands need to abandon their efforts to share fake information online.
Moreover, businesses should also help identify other organizations that employ these tactics to pressure them into halting this practice.
This requires a supreme level of transparency and a deep understanding of ethical digital marketing. However, every industry is different, so the exact steps need to be adjusted depending on the company.
3. Misleading Product Descriptions
The publication of misleading product descriptions is an issue that’s very similar to false reviews.
However, the culprit is usually the company selling the product or service, which makes for a more straightforward solution.
Keep in mind that this is an issue for businesses and the companies they hire to promote their advertising.
For example, if you work with a local lead generation expert that publishes misleading information, you’ll be held responsible for the tactics being used.
The solution to this issue is relatively simple: any business that supports the idea of ethical digital marketing should avoid inaccurate content. Instead, they should focus on creating product and service descriptions that truly reflect their business.
It’s important to note that this requires a total alignment in all departments. For example, it’s common for the marketing team to create inaccurate content because of a lack of product understanding.
Thus, you need to hold regular meetings and ensure that production, marketing, and all other departments are aligned. Moreover, creating a content review system is also a good idea to ensure all publications contain solid information.
4. Appropriation of Intellectual Online Property
The appropriation of intellectual property is a common ethical issue, yet it usually goes undetected.
This problem occurs when a brand mimics competitors’ content, slightly changes the materials, presents them as its own, and attracts more customers.
Here, the issue is that the unique selling proposition of one company is being copied by another, regardless of the quality of its products or services. And this is not how ethical digital marketing works.
In a transparent and ethical environment, companies should develop their own original strategies to promote their brand, products, and services.
In addition to this, brands should also create monitoring and reporting systems to ensure that a competitor isn’t using their data.
You should monitor your competitor pages using a VPN to stay anonymous and ensure you see the same content as consumers.
There are many providers out there, so make sure to find a VPN for download that can mask your IP as well as a GPS connection to avoid detection.
5. Personalized Advertising and Unsolicited Notifications
Personalized advertising can be extremely effective. However, this technique is so powerful that it may lead consumers to make unsustainable long-term decisions.
Not only this, but personalized advertising can also exploit potential customers in difficult social situations. This, in turn, can lead to overspending and exacerbate the social issues faced by individual consumers.
The solution here is for companies to adopt a different marketing approach – an ethical digital marketing one. In other words, this means implementing a strategy that considers the potential difficulties the target audience may be facing.
A good way to avoid targeting vulnerable consumer groups is to focus on inbound marketing strategies. This approach focuses on attracting users who have displayed interest in a company’s products in the past.
While not perfect, targeting users who have already expressed an interest in a product or service minimizes the chances of engaging individuals in more challenging social situations.
6. Partnering with Third Parties That Are Not Transparent
It’s important for business owners and marketers to ensure that every part of their advertising machine is ethical. This includes all supporting partnerships.
This is a common issue with smaller ad networks and newer marketing techniques.
Lesser-known ad networks may collect information from users through unethical means and use this data without consent.
Likewise, you should ask transparency-related questions before starting a partnership with a new affiliate or similar professional.
The solution to this issue is relatively simple. Plus, it sits on the shoulders of the organizations being advertisers as well as the marketers that promote them.
Simply put, organizations must research each marketing party before committing.
This will ensure that the information or safety of users is never compromised, regardless of the type of partnership being formed. Having only reliable business partners is an important part of the ethical digital marketing strategy.
7. Creating Private Partnerships with Social Influencers
With more than 50 million creators, it’s impossible to deny the onset of influencer marketing.
However, it’s important to note that partnerships with influencers must be transparent to remain ethical.
Users love influencers because it’s easy for a normal person to relate to a content creator. In this sense, the advice from the influencer has a similar weight to that of a friend or relative.
So, if it’s not clear, users may mistake this type of marketing material for content that doesn’t have a commercial intent. Which, in turn, can be viewed as a misleading tactic.
The best solution is for businesses to announce partnerships and ensure that the information is publicly available.
At the same time, affiliates should also remind their followers that the content is being sponsored if that is the case. Both these steps are important if you want to have an ethical digital marketing approach to your business.
8. Lack of Widespread Utilitarianism
There are many ways to achieve transparency and ethics. Utilitarianism is the approach usually followed in marketing.
In short, utilitarianism is a method that considers the final effect of an action to determine if it is ethical or not.
So, if the impact of a marketing ad or campaign is negative for the user because it enforces a bad stereotype, for example, then the promoter should avoid this content.
But, there is one big issue here: not all businesses are aware of this strategy. Moreover, many organizations know this practice but don’t follow it fully.
The entire marketing industry needs to work together in order to resolve the lack of utilitarianism once and for all.
A new standard for transparency and ethical digital marketing needs to be established. This is very difficult due to geographical, cultural, and legal reasons.
Nevertheless, private organizations like the Digital Advertising Alliance are well-positioned to distribute information and attempt to transform utilitarianism into a practice that’s always observed.
9. Cybercriminals and the Industry’s Lack of Urgency
Consumers need to be careful about the websites they access and the information they share while doing so.
After all, criminals can set up deep fakes and collect data like credit card numbers via phishing scams.
Unfortunately, criminals that use this tactic can mimic popular websites and use advertising techniques like email marketing blasts to take advantage of consumers.
To make matters worse, the digital industry is not reacting promptly. This is due, in part, to a lack of resources and awareness. Yet, the impact of this late reaction is significant.
Just like filmmakers that invest funds into combating piracy, stakeholders in the marketing industry need to help fight this type of crime.
This means that entities like the Association of National Advertisers should focus even more on eradicating cybercrime from the online marketing space.
If not, cybercriminals may end up doing irreparable damage to the entire industry.
Cybercrime is already a massive challenge for all types of digital marketing, including ethical digital marketing, so it’s essential to address this issue as soon as possible.
10. Misuse or Mismanagement of User Data
Misusing or mismanaging user data affects many industries, and online marketing is no exception.
This issue refers to organizations and/or marketers who utilize user data outside of the scope of conventional advertising.
For example, companies that sell consumer information they collect to third parties actively mismanage their user data.
Organizations, companies, and marketers need to adhere to established digital advertising best practices.
For instance, prohibiting the transfer of information to third parties unless strictly related to marketing.
Not only this, but marketers should never participate in or condone the sale of user data unless proper consent has been collected. This will help ensure that you follow the ethical digital marketing strategy and that transactions are as transparent as possible.
11. The Absence of an Internal Code of Ethics for Marketing Campaigns
Ethical behavior is relative and fluid. This means that sometimes, acting unethically is possible without realizing it.
Rather than analyzing this challenge in a vacuum, it’s important to assess it in real-life circumstances.
For instance, not having a clear understanding of ethics can lead a marketer to follow unethical practices, like creating misleading content or partnering with unreliable third parties.
The solution to this problem has to be implemented on two fronts.
For starters, marketers need to have an in-depth understanding of the ethics of online advertising.
Professional marketers are the leading experts in this field. As such, they also need to champion digital marketing ethics within their organization.
To achieve this, marketers need to stay updated and apply ethical digital marketing thinking to every project they participate in or action they take.
Additionally, companies need to create a code of ethics specifically for their marketing departments.
Top-level marketers should participate in the creation of the code. Which, in turn, should be distributed to and observed by all members of the advertising department.
12. The Reinforcement of Bias and Its Social Impact
Biases are still an openly debated subject in all forms of advertising.
The immediate impact of subjective biases may be high profits. But, in the long run, this marketing practice may have a detrimental social impact.
The problem is that online marketing is being used to reinforce many biases before we fully understand their impact.
After all, it’s still common to see advertising content that features negative stereotypes about different genders, cultures, races, and religions.
This can potentially fuel prejudice that comes with stereotypes and blanket statements.
Markets and organizations need to acknowledge their content’s social sway.
The steps required to address this vary from one organization to the next. So, it’s important to adapt sensitivity training and other activities based on your region’s standards.
At the same time, advertisers also need to avoid reinforcing any stereotypes and create content that’s not bias-centric.
13. Self-Serve Ads Platforms with Little Regulation
Marketers, organizations, and third parties can use self-service ad platforms that want to purchase online advertisements quickly and effectively.
Most of these platforms rely on machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence or AI.
This means that the content and campaigns being promoted are not always regulated by humans that can apply ethical judgment.
Likewise, it’s also possible for cybercriminals to purchase these ad spots. For users, this increases the chances of falling victim to fraudsters as malicious content is displayed along with legitimate advertising.
Self-serving platforms must establish guidelines to ensure that only legitimate companies purchase their ad spots.
Furthermore, these ad networks must develop better AI technology to improve the content verification system.
This will help consumers to interact with relevant ads that don’t pose a security threat.
The digital marketing industry has transformed the way companies interact with their audiences.
But virtual channels also present unique ethical challenges that marketers need to resolve to get the best results from their efforts. Applying the ethical digital marketing tips mentioned above will help your business gain more loyal customers and build a solid reputation for your brand.
Learn more about digital marketing and other innovative fields by staying tuned to our blog.