Snake Oil and Flim Flam -What is Ethical Marketing?

The early 1900s was a dangerous place for consumers. Anyone could sell anything, with no one checking on the claims of the product or the ingredients! You might purchase cough syrup from a street peddler that was nothing more than brown water and lemon, or it could contain something dangerously addictive, like cocaine! Thankfully that era is over, and most goods and services are now highly regulated. There are also many federal and local laws in place to protect consumers. Just because there are rules doesn’t mean that some unscrupulous people don’t like to break them. Like many industries, marketing now has its own set of standards and ethics. Ethical marketers should live by the American Marketing Association’s Code of Conduct. The thing you MUST remember as a new marketer is DO NO HARM!

 That may include:

  • Honesty- Being honest about your products and practices
  • Responsibility-Acknowledging social obligations, as well as recognizing our commitments to our stakeholders
  • Fairness-Refusing to participate in price gouging or “bait and switch” tactics and treating our employees fairly
  • Respect-Acknowledging the basic human rights of all stakeholders
  • Transparency-Encourage a spirit of openness to all stakeholders, this includes the public
  • Citizenship-To give back to our community, treat supply chain participants fairly, and generally treat people as we would like to be treated

These are some of the basics that are important to every good marketer. More in-depth reading can be found at the American Marketing Association’s website, Here (Codes of Conduct: AMA Statement of Ethics., 2019)!

Connor Surdi

One great example of ethical marketing in action is the Starbucks company. Starbucks decided to phase out all plastic straw use in their store by 2020. This effort was done to help mitigate the excessive use of plastic straws in restaurants. They have also “… committed $10 million to help develop recyclable, compostable cups for hot drinks (Wiener-Bronner, D. (2018, July 9). The responsibility to keep our environment working properly is something we should all take seriously and that we can all benefit from. This shows how seriously Starbucks takes the issue of ethical sustainability.

An example of a company not doing the right thing ethically is the Equifax security breach. Equifax faced a large ethical scandal when hackers stole data from more than 148 million consumers” (Western Governors University, 2019, September 23). This was would have bad enough, except that instead of being transparent and telling their customers Equifax hid the breach for over two months. Fortunately, after court rulings Equifax was fined and ordered to compensate consumers for damages, they may have incurred from having their data leaked (Western Governors University, 2019, September 23). So much time, money and reputation could have been saved by doing the right thing and informing their customers of the breach. Instead, Equifax paid the price figuratively and now literally. They are still working to rebuild their soiled reputation.

These standards are extremely important in holding up the reputation of marketers worldwide). Millennials currently make up one of the biggest consumer segments worldwide. “70% of millennials say they carefully consider corporate values when making a purchase,” Western Governors University., 2019, September 23). As marketers we must have pride and integrity, if we can’t be trusted then how will consumers feel safe purchasing anything from us? If ethics isn’t your forte’ then at the very least, you should be concerned with upholding the law. Local and federal law enforcement vary by state, but you don’t want to end up fined, disgraced, under indictment or in worse, in jail.

Honestly, it’s simple. Do the right thing, and treat people as you would like to be treated!


Codes of Conduct: AMA Statement of Ethics. (2019). Retrieved March 1, 2020, from

Western Governors University. (2019, September 23). Ethical Dilemmas: How Scandals Damage Companies. Retrieved March 1, 2020, from

Wiener-Bronner, D. (2018, July 9). Starbucks is eliminating plastic straws from all stores. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: