the ethical move and little green duck logos and "ethical issues with marketing"

Recently, I shared on social media that I (on behalf of Little Green Duck and The Duck Pond) have taken The Ethical Move pledge to create a new marketing standard based on transparency, trust and honesty. This is because I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the way we are told we “should” market our businesses, which has highlighted some ethical issues with marketing, Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.

Disclaimer: I am not perfect 

Before I talk about the pledge and my reasons for taking it in more detail, I want to make it clear that I am definitely not perfect. I am constantly learning, I have made mistakes and will make mistakes in future. This is just one of my first steps towards doing business differently and hopefully helping others who want to make changes to do the same.

Ethical issues with marketing and The Ethical Move pledge

I’ve been wondering for a while why the fairly universally encouraged way of marketing a business, growing your audience and selling to customers has been making me feel ill-at-ease. I am bombarded daily by lead magnets, “secret” recipes to hit consistent £10k months, false urgency, unsolicited voice notes in my DMs, pressure and email funnels that go on for 7, 14, 30, sometimes 90 days.

This is my promise to anyone who has ever been or considered becoming a customer of mine, that I will not employ these tactics in the future and I will be totally honest and transparent about the way I do business. Just like when I decided to become vegan, I’ve realised that “but it’s what we’ve always done” is not good enough for me as a self-labelled “ethical business fanatic”.

All this said, the pledge I’ve outlined below is not a list of things YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY NOT DO. For me, it’s more being aware of how I am approaching marketing and sales for my business, and removing or adapting anything that doesn’t feel right or does not have a genuine, honest reason for it. I’m taking the pledge to highlight and consistently cross-check my actions against any ethical issues with marketing and sales.

My pledge in full, plus thoughts on marketing without ethical issues

When I first published this on social media, character limits made it difficult to articulate exactly how I feel about each item on the list, so here is my opportunity to dig deeper.⠀

Charm pricing

I pledge to change my prices from “charm prices” to round numbers.

For those that don’t know, charm pricing is an element of psychological pricing that usually uses pricing ending with 99, 9 or 7. This is because prices where the far left digit is reduced by 1 by simply reducing the price by £0.01, £0.03, £1 or £3. For example, £997 to our brains feels closer to £900 than it does to £1,000. So we’re more likely to buy.

I will admit, I have been sucked into this tactic on more than one occasion. People telling me my service or product won’t sell if it’s a round number, combined with being a relatively new business owner was enough for me to go with the crowd.

But not any more. From now on, all my prices will either be round numbers, or where they’re not, there will be a genuine business reason behind the price I’ve chosen. Not psychology.

Countdowns

I pledge to not use countdown timers to drive a sale.

This one caused a bit of debate when I posted about it. A lot of people read this part of the pledge as ” you should never use countdown timers” so there were a lot of people defending them.

But I agree, there is a place for timers, it’s just choosing carefully when to use them. For example, I love using timers on Instagram when I’m excited about something that’s happening in The Duck Pond. Or something is launching and I am genuinely looking forward to it.

However, if I was using a timer to close the cart on something that actually doesn’t need to close (my membership, for example), or to make people panic into buying before a certain point, then that’s what I’m talking about removing.

False scarcity

I pledge to be honest about availability.

The key word here is “false”. If you are running an online programme and you can deliver the best value to people by only having a limited number of places, then that is genuine scarcity and, in my opinion, it’s OK to communicate that to people. (Without making them feel bad for not buying, though).

However, if you’re saying “there are only X places left” when actually that’s not true, that’s when, in my eyes, things start to get problematic.

Lead magnets

I pledge to be fully transparent in my email list building.

This is another one that got people debating. Mainly because a lot of people assumed I was saying “don’t use lead magnets, they are bad”. Of COURSE lead magnets aren’t bad. It’s just the way they are marketed that can be an issue.

I think the things to keep in mind here are:

  1. Does the lead magnet deliver genuine value and will it help your customer in some way regardless of whether they buy your paid service/product at the end?
  2. Are you being open and honest about the fact that lead magnets might be free in terms of money, but actually you are asking for people’s time, attention and data in return? By saying “this is free” without saying “but I am going to be pitching X at the end of it” or “I am using this to build my email list but I promise not to spam you with millions of emails as a result of you signing up”, you’re taking something from people without them consenting to the full terms of what they’re swapping their information and attention for.

These are definitely points I hadn’t considered previously and I promise to consider in future.

Bait & switch

I pledge to deliver the value I promise.

This goes hand-in-hand with the lead magnets point above. I bet every one of us has been invited to a webinar or workshop where, on signing up, it’s just 60 minutes of hard-sell and no value. I don’t know about you but they always make me feel cheated, and definitely much less likely to buy from that person. If that’s not an ethical issue with marketing, I don’t know what is!

So this part of the pledge simply reminds us that we should be delivering more minutes of value than minutes of sales. Much more! People like to feel like they can trust us and get to know us, and by drawing them in with a promise we then don’t keep, we’re breaking their trust AND not making them want to be our friend!

Woke washing/greenwashing

I pledge to not use social or environmental issues to leverage my marketing.

Now, we can all agree that woke washing/greenwashing is not a desirable quality in a business and is definitely one of the biggest ethical issues with marketing. But this point needs some careful thought. For me, it’s about making sure I’m communicating my values, passions and what’s important to me, as well as genuine ways my business is helping to do good, with using those issues to drive sales purely for my own benefit. 

My business is led by purpose, so it would be wrong not to talk about it. But I am going to make sure I’m very mindful about how I communicate these things and whether it could be negatively viewed.

Secret recipe

I pledge to not make false promises in my sales and marketing.

This is a pretty simple one for me. Of course, I will continue to communicate the value I can give, the results other customers have had and the methods I use. But it wouldn’t be right for me to be selling a “secret formula” because every person and every business is different. That’s why tailored and personal rather than one-size-fits-all will always be my approach.

My Ethical Move in summary

Some of this is already second nature in my business, but I am not perfect. I acknowledge the fact that, in the past, I have employed some of these tactics without as much thought as I should have given them.

It wasn’t until I thought about the psychology behind these methods that I realised that they cannot and will not be part of my business going forward without full thought, honesty and transparency. And if that means my business grows more slowly than others, so be it. I’d much rather be mindful of the potential ethical issues with marketing my business than ignoring it altogether.

Yellow circle with

⠀ This badge represents my pledge to the ethical move in service of a new marketing standard based on transparency, trust, and honesty. Please connect with me and call me out if you see me not honouring my pledge.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether you’ve experienced any ethical issues with marketing or if you’re planning on taking the pledge – please drop me a comment below or send me an email.