The world is a weird place. Right now, we’re no longer judging a product based on the intrinsic quality of the product itself but based on the fidelity of the product compared to what we were promised.
Sometimes, a product can still be good but because it fall short of what was promised, or because of people’s unrealistic expectations that the company never bothered correcting, the product still ended up being torn to shreds.
Take for example the case with the video game No Man’s Sky. It was advertised as the be-all and end-all of open-world space exploration video game, with screenshots and videos showcasing a fully realized galaxy of planets and alien species dotted with warring factions and the chance to encounter other players in a shared universe.
Long story short, the game fell quite short of those noble goals and the backlash against the game and its developer, Britain’s Hello Games, was so strong and that the game was eventually investigated for disingenuous marketing by UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
The developer was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing but the damage has been done. It doesn’t matter that the game itself was decent or that Hello Games has spent the better part of two years implementing updates that brings the game closer to its intended vision, first impression lasts the longest and as of today, the Steam page of the game still shows the game’s overall user reviews as ‘Mostly Negative’. Even now, that game is still being held up as an example of what not to do when it comes to content marketing, which coupled with the rise of fake news phenomenon give rise to a marketing philosophy known as ethical marketing.
Let your product speaks for itself
At a glance, the term ethical marketing sounds very much like an oxymoron. Isn’t the whole point of marketing to present your product in the best light possible? Even if that light is impossible to reproduce in a practical setting?
Aye to the first question but nay on the second one. If you already have faith in the product you’ve developed, why bother with sensationalism? That is the core hallmark of ethical marketing, be transparent and let your product speaks for itself. Ethical marketing isn’t a strategy or a method; it is a philosophy, a foundation upon which you should base your marketing strategy around on.
There are no set rules on what constitutes ethical marketing, but some of the pillars are:
Focus on your product first
Let me remind you of the fiasco that is the Fyre Fest. In case you haven’t been made aware already, Fyre Festival was meant to be ‘an immersive music festival’ held on an island in the Bahamas over two weekends and giving you the kind of experience that no music festival has ever done before.
The promotional video for the event itself includes some of the world’s most popular models, Elsa Hosk, Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid, to name a few, which quickly pushed the event into the mainstream.
It was, admittedly speaking, one of the greatest marketing fluff the world has ever seen. Emphasis on the word fluff. You see, the promoter behind the event went about it the wrong way. Instead of focusing on the logistic of the festival itself, they put more emphasis on creating a buzz around the event, literally putting the cart before the horse. Any guess on how the festival turned out to be? Yep, it’s a real life Hunger Games.
Don’t fudge the numbers
I’m sure you are familiar with Ferrari. The Italian marque has long been synonymous with high-performance sports car, with their iconic Italian red and prancing horse badge embedded deeply into the popular culture. Sadly, even a brand like Ferrari isn’t immune to shady marketing tactics.
Back in 2011, British motoring journalist Chris Harris, now one of the Top Gear hosts, wrote a piece on how Ferrari deals with “independent” reviews of their car. I put the quotation mark because the reviews are anything but. Ferrari insist on knowing the details of the test in advance so they can tune their car to suit the environment and even went as far as providing two different cars for a straight line test and a handling test.
What this means is that if you’re reading a review on a Ferrari and read that it takes the car 3 seconds to reach 100 km/h from a standstill, you can bet that you’re never going to meet that number in the car you bought off the showroom.
Lay off the sensationalism
If you’re selling juice, don’t use the word “raw, plant-based nutrition”, just say juice. Would you believe me if I told you that the phrase “aircraft-grade aluminum and precision-forged gearing components” is used to describe a juice presser? The two phrase I used as an example above comes straight out of Juicero, another one of Silicon Valley concoction that basically sells packaged juice and the corresponding presser but went filtered through the fanciest thesaurus known to man so that the word that comes out are like that.
The whole Silicon Valley industry is peppered with meaningless buzzwords like that. Tech companies and startups spend an unhealthy amount of time coming up with more ridiculous ways to describe their product instead of using industry standard terms and guess what? Juicero shuttered in late 2017 amid widespread criticism of their business model.
Amidst all of this trust issues, it is important for your company to adapt your marketing strategy to be as transparent as possible, using the philosophy of ethical marketing as the foundation. Trust is the world’s strongest currency after all.