Ethical Issues in Digital Marketing

digital marketing and ethics

Social issues and ethics in digital marketing – or traditional advertising, for that matter – are incredibly complicated. Depending on what industry your campaign functions for, there are a slew of social, ethical and cultural considerations involved to make sure your strategy appeals to a market without excluding or offending others.

With the world more connected than ever, people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs and lifestyles are increasingly exposed to different forms of digital marketing. While this connectivity is great, innovative and leading agencies, like JumpSIX Marketing, need to stay ahead of the game to avoid potential problems. Today, our marketing experts will discuss the ethical implications of digital marketing and how your decisions can have a significant impact on your brand.

Market Research and Finding Your Audience

If you’re in the early stages of a digital marketing or advertising campaign, how do you intend to go about appealing to your audience? Do you already have an idea of who they are? And if you do, where did you get that information from? You might be able to gauge who a particular product or service will appeal to, but already, you’re risking making assumptions about people before you’ve even begun.

Conducting market research is an important part of a good campaign, but it can be difficult to prevent your own assumptions and biases into that research, inadvertently skewing your end result. Getting results from market research requires dividing people into different categories based on different factors – interests, hobbies, education, income and more – and the broader the audience, the more you risk the emergence of assumptions and stereotyping. Without a strong ethical foundation and an acute awareness of social culture around your audience, you risk excluding or deciding on who you’re appealing to for the wrong reasons.

In addition, if you’re appealing to a younger audience or one emerging from a different cultural base, you need to consider whether they’re aware of standard marketing practices – manipulating an audience’s naivety to marketing tactics, rather than effectively targeting what appeals to them, is a major ethical problem.

Privacy, Transparency and Awareness

Once your digital marketing campaign is in full swing, the privacy of your users is another major factor. With the proliferation of digital communication in almost every aspect of our lives, privacy is one of the foremost issues that the public is aware of.

Privacy has become a hot button issue in the digital age, and digital marketing is possibly one of the most controversial areas when it comes to protecting sensitive, individual information. Striking a balance between maintaining the privacy of your target audience and gathering enough information to use digital advertising effectively can be difficult, but it is something all digital marketing firms should strive for.

When you’re collecting information for your research, you need to make sure your sample audience is aware of your practices, what information you’re collecting, and how they can go about contacting you with questions or concerns. This is typically easier than it might sound since all you need to do is spell it out somewhere on your website or in your online material.

Having a small disclaimer, the internet equivalent of the fine print, is fine, but using a pop-up dialogue box is better since users have to actively engage with it to close it. This way, even if they don’t read it, you’ve at least clearly presented it.

Beyond the research stages, digital marketing agencies need to maintain an element of transparency. Most modern audiences understand the basics of how advertising works and will know, even when it works, what kind of methods advertisers are using to get their attention.

This makes effective advertising more of a challenge, but many marketers and advertisers find results in understanding and using this give-and-take relationship with consumers by being playful and using self-referencing humor in their advertising.

Of course, this isn’t going to be appropriate for every product, but it’s important to have the same level of self-awareness when you launch your campaign: be prepared for your consumers to be advertising savvy, and decide the best way for you, your company or your products to capitalize on it.

Tracking Consumer Data

Consumer data is big business. It’s also a vital part of effective digital advertising. Being able to target the right audience, at the right time, with the right type of advertising is a key component of good, modern marketing.

Doing things the old fashioned way – throwing out ads to as many different people as possible in the hope of catching anyone’s attention – is becoming less and less effective as everyone’s experience becomes more targeted and more personalized.

Social and consumer media like music, movies, and TV shows, can be more easily tailored to personal preference than ever before, and if you’re marketing your products or services, you need to keep up with this digital personalization.

This is where consumer data comes in. Tracking user habits means collecting data, and the general public is more aware of that than ever. But what can you do about it?

Be Aware of Third Parties

Many companies, especially smaller, private ones that might not be too tech savvy, can be caught unaware by privacy concerns. Selling data en masse is commonplace, so much so that many companies aren’t aware of third parties tagging their site and selling the data they collect. Educate yourself, or consult with a professional, about how and why this happens and about software solutions to prevent it.

Be Aware of How Much the Rules Change

Different industries and sectors have different rules for privacy, so, if you want to maintain an active digital presence, you need to make sure you’re aware of the ones that apply specifically to you. There isn’t a catch-all privacy plan for everyone, so you’ll have to be specific.

And, of course, nothing ever stays still for long in the digital world. Not only will rules and regulations change between sectors, they will also rapidly change as perceptions and awareness of privacy do too. This means you need to have a keen ear and open eyes for new developments about the topic.

Direct Marketing and Fatigue

In digital marketing, direct marketing is perhaps the most utilized method to reach consumers. Unfortunately, direct marketing also comes with a minefield of problems. How much is too much? When does it become intrusive? How do you find the balance of getting your product or service in front of enough people – and the right people – without inundating them? Think of how many people now browse the internet with an adblocker. You may well be reading this blog with one active on your browser right now (it’s okay, we appreciate the irony). Any poorly planned, badly designed and thoughtlessly placed digital advertising is going to be annoying, and these are the ads that most ad blockers will censor.

Fortunately for those of us still looking to reach an audience, many higher-end adblock providers now offer the ability to “whitelist” certain advertisers. The best way to be allowed on these whitelists is to tick all the boxes of good digital marketing – relevant, well-designed and non-intrusive ads that are informative and effective. In order to get the most out of your marketing, you need extensive planning and extensive research, along with an eye for design and a knack for short, informative copy.

Digital Marketing – An Ongoing Obstacle Course

The full breadth of social and ethical issues in digital marketing is impossible to do in a single entry. The JumpSIX team will be covering more of these possible pitfalls in future entries before we move on to what some of the solutions might be. In the meantime, if you’re looking for an agency to do the research, planning and practice for you – contact JumpSIX Marketing today.

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