Ethical Marketing: 4 Values All Brands Should Strive For

3 05 2023

Photo: Getty Images

By Jeff Bradfor, PR pro, president of Dalton Agency’s Nashville office, author of “The Joy of Propaganda: The How and Why of Public Relations and Marketing.” via Forbes • Reposted: May 3, 2023

Today, consumers demand that companies not only offer quality products and services but also behave ethically in their marketing practices. Ethical behavior is a critical aspect of building long-term relationships with consumers.

In this article, I will list what I believe are the fundamental, perennial philosophical values that guide ethical marketing—values that have guided the work of our PR agency for the past 23 years—and describe how brands have implemented them in their strategies.


Honesty means telling the truth, being transparent and avoiding deception. In the past, many companies have used deceptive tactics in their marketing practices to gain a competitive advantage. However, with the rise of social media and other digital channels, such tactics are easily exposed and can damage a brand’s reputation.

An example of deception is Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal. The company admitted to using software that could detect when its cars were being tested for emissions and then adjust the performance to pass the test. However, in real-world driving conditions, the cars emitted up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide. The company faced massive backlash, with many consumers feeling betrayed and questioning the brand’s ethics.

On the positive side, Tylenol dramatically demonstrated how to honestly and openly respond to a crisis during the infamous Tylenol tampering incident in 1982, in which several people died after taking Tylenol laced with potassium cyanide. The company quickly and completely shared information about the incident and took a huge financial hit by removing and destroying all products on the market at the time. Not only did Tylenol’s honesty save lives, but it also saved the company’s reputation. Within a year of the incident, sales of Tylenol had rebounded to pre-incident levels—and the company was widely praised for its ethical response to a tragedy that cost it over $100 million.

Respect For Individual Rights

This includes respecting privacy, data protection and avoiding discrimination. Consumers have the right to control their personal data and decide how it is used by companies. Brands must ensure they are transparent about their data collection and usage practices and obtain explicit consent from consumers.

A recent example of this is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union. Brands that prioritize individual rights and respect consumer privacy are more likely to build trust and loyalty with consumers.

Respect For Human Dignity

Brands must recognize the inherent worth and value of each person and treat them accordingly. In marketing, respect for human dignity means avoiding tactics that exploit or manipulate consumers, such as intentional deception.

For instance, while influencer marketing can be an effective way for businesses to reach new audiences, some influencers have been criticized for promoting products that they do not actually use or endorse, or for promoting products that may be harmful or unethical. This lack of authenticity and transparency can be seen as a violation of respect for human dignity.


Marketers have a responsibility to ensure that their marketing efforts do not harm people or society. They should also be responsible for ensuring that their products or services are safe and reliable.

For example, in 2019, a well-known vaping brand was criticized for its marketing practices, which contributed to the rise of teenage vaping. The company had used colorful packaging and social media influencers to target young people, despite knowing that its products were highly addictive and harmful. The company’s marketing practices had undermined the common good and contributed to a public health crisis.

Another example of irresponsibility is the issue of greenwashing, the practice of making false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product or service. It has become a significant problem, as consumers are becoming more aware of environmental issues and are looking for sustainable products. Companies are being urged to be more transparent about their environmental practices and ensure that their marketing efforts are responsible.


Ethical marketing is critical for building trust and long-term relationships with consumers. Brands that prioritize honesty, responsibility and respect for individual rights and human dignity will not only meet consumer expectations but also set themselves apart from their competitors. By implementing these values in their marketing strategies, brands can create a positive impact on society while also driving business success.

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