I first discovered my passion for marketing, though I didn’t realise at the time it was marketing, whilst working as a healthcare assistant. It was the height of the 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic. I was several weeks into my new role, when I found myself coordinating a vaccination campaign for a surgery of 16,000 patients.
The swine flu vaccine was not for everyone, just those in medically at-risk groups; for example the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. We had vaccination rate targets to hit and, more importantly, patients to protect. There was a lot of admin involved in this project, but one of my big responsibilities was awareness – communicating to people that required the vaccine they should get it, and why they should get it, to get them through the door. It was also about reassuring the people who didn’t need it (but wanted it) that it wasn’t necessary to them. It was an important job, worthwhile, and the first step on my personal journey to becoming a marketer. (The campaign was very successful, if you were wondering, we smashed our targets).
A(n unjust) Marketing Stereotype
A few years back, when I made the move to enrol on a Marketing and Management MSc, with a Chemistry BSc, reactions were mixed to say the least. My social circles are full of (really quite brilliant) scientists, my best friend is about to be a doctor of Molecular Immunology, she studies the role of pge2 on intestinal t reg development (I don’t know what that means either, but she’s doing cool important stuff). My family is composed of medics and skilled labourers. I think to many of the people in my life when I say that I’m in marketing, I conjure this sort of image:
— Tom Fishburne (@tomfishburne) September 8, 2014
Unethical Marketing Practice
Without a doubt, some questionable marketing and advertising practices have happened, and do happen, whether implemented with naivety, disregard, or malice.
As somebody who often finds themself surrounded by medical people, a topic of conversation that recurs in my world is the ‘next big public health crisis’ (think smoking, binge drinking, obesity…), gambling usually crops up.
Just this week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Chairman, Lord David Currie, discussed ‘unforeseen’ consequences of the decade-old legislation that legalised the TV advertising of gambling, and the ASA’s banning of offensive and immoral advertising implemented by gambling companies’ affiliates.
I often find myself taken aback by gambling advertising, by the places it’s put and the sheer quantity. This summer I decided to try taking a break from alcohol for a bit. I’m glad to say that I don’t have an alcohol addiction, but I was aware of growing bad habits meaning that too often I drank above the weekly recommended limit (14 units).I wanted some motivation, I love a bit of data and hate to break a streak, so I got myself an app to count my alcohol free days (still going, 67 days). The app was free to download, as per the old adage ‘no such thing as a free lunch’, this meant it came with advertising. I didn’t mind. Then one morning I check my stats, and see this:
It is clear from the features of this app that it is aimed at people with drinking problems who want to quit. It is also well recognised that drug- and non-drug addictions co-occur in many people. Addiction counsellors observe that patients who give up alcohol or drugs may transfer their addictive behavioural patterns to activities such as gambling or eating. What you see above is the targeting of people potentially trying to overcome addiction with an alternative addiction. I don’t need to explain the ethical ambiguity there.
Making Marketing Good
It doesn’t need to be this way. I don’t think marketing is about tricking people or taking advantage of their vulnerabilities. I love marketing, and genuinely believe in what I do. Good marketing connects people with products, services, causes, activities, and more that they will get genuine benefit from. That benefit could be small or large, a simple pleasure/convenience or a big life change. Marketing is about the right people finding and choosing your product, not just taking anyone’s money.
A campaign I loved, that was all good, was Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan – centred around inspiring women to get active, and challenge the gender discrepancy in sport participation.
Rolling with the theme of gender discrepancy, a project that I think is very worthwhile is the Let Toys be Toys campaign. They’re a pressure group focusing on influencing private companies, rather than public policy. They push companies selling products to children to move away from gender-targeted marketing. It’s all about giving children free choice of what they play with, rather than telling them what is a boy or girl’s toy. The evidence is that all toys are important to development and we shouldn’t be limiting play. As a girl who loved (loves) motorcycles and superheroes, but also had an excessively large Barbie collection, it’s a cause close to my heart.
It’s not about making sacrifices for a cause, quite the opposite. Demand for ethical goods is booming. Research by Mintel in 2015 found 56% of Americans stop buying from companies if they perceive them to be unethical. VINISUD 2018 (a big Mediterranean wine conference) just announced a theme of Ethical Accountability and Sustainable Development. Values have always mattered to consumers, and ethical awareness is increasing globally.
You want your marketing to nurture strong brands with loyal customers, people who come back. You don’t want to sell to people who may feel shortchanged. Digital marketing tools allow for improved targeting, so we can speak to the right people more directly and cost-effectively than ever. These same platforms give consumers a voice, so if they feel betrayed you will know about it.
Ethical business isn’t just about what you sell and how it’s made, but also how you sell it. Ethical marketing has always been important, now it’s essential to your company thriving. We can all do better.
- UK Houses of Parliament POST Note Number 356 May 2010
- ‘ASA chairman speaks out about the ‘gamblification of sport’’, Marketing Week, Sarah Vizard
- PR Newswire
- No More Boys and Girls’, BBC documentary
- ‘Start your own ethical business – it could make a world of difference‘, The Guardian, Donna Ferguson