the future

Alongside emerging technologies in the digital marketing industry, such as the internet of things (IoT), comes new ethical concerns. 

To read a simple definition and short history of the IoT, check out what Wikipedia says here, but my explanation would be to imagine living a life of the highest convenience. Not having to get up to turn off the lights, downloading your shopping list from your fridge, getting health updates from your watch…a life of technological bliss!

However, all of these technologies can amount to something quite pervasive, as outlined in these research articles, Allhoff and Henschke (2018) and Popescul and Georgescu (2013). 

If we are worried about the level of data that companies have on us now, we need to step back and consider the impacts this life of convenience may cause. 

I want to use smart fridges as an example, because who doesn’t love food and convenience?

image by Qioto

Consumers don’t have much trust in companies that collect their data, as shown by the 60% of Facebook users who have little to no trust that their information will be kept private (CNBC, 2013). 

However, with smart fridges tracking our eating habits, privacy is a crucial element that consumers cannot overlook!

Imagine the same scenario of distrust between consumers and smart fridge companies, with a cloud of doubt around whether they are selling user data…

Now, imagine that these companies are selling user data and they’re selling it to insurance companies or pharmacies who use our personal information to market their health coverage or vitamin range!

(A very dramatic and dystopian twist, but you never know)

How much of our private information are we happy to trade to marketers in exchange for convenience?

My suggestion is to keep an eye on Garner’s hype cycle! Be aware of what’s coming and start to think about potential ethical issues, both as marketers and consumers.

image by Gartner

the good examples

This week (on a more positive note!) I want to move on from cringeworthy unethical marketing mistakes and talk about what I believe constitutes ethical digital marketing.

As we saw last week, ethical errors in digital marketing are likely to go viral and potentially alienate a huge chunk of their target market. 

On the other hand, companies who use their digital marketing campaigns as methods of activism to inspire change can gain a very loyal customer base built on shared values. 

More than half of consumers in Gen Z favour socially conscience brands according to new research from MNI Targeted Media (2018).

Brands such as Girlfriend Collective, Thankyou and Lush embody the factors of an ethical company. They market diversity and inclusion, sustainability and a global conscience. As a result, their digital marketing takes on these same ethical principles.

All three of these companies (and many, many more) can attribute a lot of their success to these ethical marketing decisions!

Thankyou is an Australian personal hygiene brand with a mission to eradicate global poverty. 

Their products feature a QR code which allows the customer to track the progress that their purchase has made in a project working towards causes such as water sanitation and maternal health!

(image by

Lush is a company that spreads its ethical cause far and wide: from environmental sustainability, ethical sourcing and fair trade to winning Forbes’ list of diverse companies!

(image by

The last example I want to use is Girlfriend Collective, a company that makes ‘slow fashion’ activewear out of recycled plastic water bottles and fishing nets! Their transparency in the production process and body inclusivity in their online marketing campaigns are very persuasive advertising…(I would know, I now own two sets!).

(image by Girlfriend Collective on Instagram)

the unethical campaigns

Organisations usually run unethical digital marketing campaigns due to ignorance or misjudgement rather than purposefully intending to offend potential consumers. 

Some companies choose to use digital marketing to present their brand in an ethical way for the sole purpose of profit. These ‘ethical’ campaigns may only be a duplicitous facade to engage consumers. 

To ethically profit from digital marketing techniques that use a political or moral stance as a strategy, these values must not only be for marketing purposes but also be synonymous with the organisation’s ethos. 

When the message is disingenuous it is usually very clear, and social media users are quick to call it out!

53% of consumers who are disappointed in a brand’s response to a social issue complain about it (Accenture Strategy, 2018), which has the ability to spark a viral social media phenomenon as seen in the examples below!

Pepsi is a brand that has made an insensitive digital marketing mistake that consumers are unlikely to forget about quickly!

image from

Pepsi’s 2017 viral social media failure which accidentally saw Kendall Jenner trivialising a Black Lives Matter protest which was widely considered to be very offensive.

The below misjudgement by Facebook shows some sensitivity can go a long way in the eyes of consumers!

image by The Verge

Facebook made a faux pas in 2017 when they released a video showing a cartoon version of Mark Zuckerberg touring the destruction of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico through virtual reality technology. 

The marketing team at Bud Light clearly didn’t realise the implications of their campaign catchphrase, but social media sure did!

image by

The Bud Light can was remodelled to read: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” alongside the hashtag #UpForWhatever. The hashtag blew up on social media dragging Bug Light for encouraging rape culture. 

These examples go to show that even big businesses with huge marketing budgets and an entire team behind them can make serious misjudgements when it comes to their campaigns!

My advice: always think ethically!

If you aren’t sure that your digital marketing campaign won’t be offensive to an entire demographic in your target market, you probably need to rethink your angle!

To revel in the cringe factor for a bit longer check out some more examples of marketing fails here!

Please comment your thoughts on these examples, or tell us about another example below!

the diversity

Diversity involves the inclusion of all people regardless of gender, age, race, sexuality or any other demographics and according to research collated by Aspire HQ (2018), diversity in digital marketing matters!

When incorporating diversity and inclusion into their campaigns, brands need to make sure they don’t miss the mark. The result of a disingenuous attempt at including diversity often results in extensive social media backlash!

Example 1: Racist Burger King Instagram ad

(image sourced from The Drum)

Example 2: Facebook blocks a racist ad by Trump

(image soured from The Guardian)

To avoid the spread of online hate, brands need to embrace employee diversity and view it as a precursor to attracting a diverse customer base. 

Companies can more easily connect with their diverse customer base through diversity within their workforce. It lowers the likelihood of campaigns missing the mark and becoming offensive when trying to celebrate diversity.

Godis Rivera, the associate director of social media at digital marketing agency VML backs this tip, claiming “I’ve noticed that when a brand totally misses the mark on something that has to do with ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, it’s often because no one from that particular viewpoint was included in the process.”

Diversity in digital marketing is most important for companies whose target market is minorities and millennials who appreciate non-traditional representation in marketing.

AdAge lists millennials as the most racially diverse generation in America’s history and they are willing to spend their money on brands who recognise and support this diversity.

“Customers realise that inclusive ads can be risky and will go far to support brands that share similar values.”

Godis Rivera
(image sourced from Diversity by Inclusion)

Despite the significant growth the digital marketing industry has made towards diversity and inclusion, there is much more headway to be made!

Diversity in marketing campaigns isn’t only the ethical path, it can lead to many positive business outcomes. You can read more about that here.

Let me know in the comments below a marketing campaign embracing diversity that has stood out for you – maybe it changed your mind on a brand or influenced you to make a purchase!

the surveillance

Information provided to speech recognition technologies AI’s such as Google Assistant, Cortana, Siri and Amazon Alexa can be a valuable digital marketing tool to develop predictive analytics and targeted advertising.

However, if we are unaware of exactly what and when data is being gathered and used, this raises a point for ethical concern. 

Apart from its basic functions, a key purpose of the Amazon Alexa is a marketing tool for other Amazon services such as their personalised advertising as well as Amazon Music and Amazon Videos. 

image by Amazon

“Amazon’s goal with data collection is to build a 360-degree view of you and your buying habits”

…but before you succumb to the ease of a digital assistant, take a look at these horror stories of Amazon Alexa gone wrong!

  1. Under the European Union’s General Data Protection regulations, a German man requested a copy of all the information Amazon had collected on him. What he got back was the Amazon Alexa recordings of another family! The recordings enabled him to identify the family’s first names, last names and even their location!
  2. A warrant gives law enforcement the ability to obtain recordings and in a fascinating turn of events, an Amazon Alexa is being treated as a key witness in a murder trial!
  3. An Amazon Alexa has ‘misheard’ an instruction which resulted in a couple’s conversation being recorded and sent to one of their contacts. 

With the amount of data that devices such as the Amazon Alexa collect, there is a huge potential that companies collecting this data may exchange it (for huge sums of money) with marketers for purposes of targeted advertising.

Top tip: read the privacy policies!

What are your thoughts, is the convenience of the Amazon Alexa worth the risk of your privacy and security?

If you want to delve further into the ethical pros and cons of voice recognition software and digital marketing, check out this article from The Guardian!

the black hat vs white hat debate

According to MOZ, search engine optimisation (SEO) is a marketing tool which focuses on growing brand visibility through organic search engine results. 

(image by Oberlo)

It is a highly targeted technique to drive traffic to a company’s website that has the potential to be both dynamic and low cost. 

However, it also has a lack of predictability and may not reap benefits straight away. 

To get around these disadvantages, many organisations engage in unethical practices known as black hat techniques which attempt to trick the algorithms. 

According to Black Hat SEO Forum, it includes meta keyword stuffing, which involves repeated use of the same terms, hidden content such as white text on white background, cloaking and link farming. 

Google algorithms are trained to detect these black hat techniques which can result in the demotion of a page’s rank instead of successful SEO. 

Link Assistant published big name examples of companies who have been penalised for using black hat techniques, including BMW – check out the list here!

Or watch Neil Patel describe some blacklisted tactics in the video below!

To prevent being penalised by the algorithm, companies should stick to white hat SEO. These SEO techniques are the ethical approach to growing visibility online. 

Implementation involves quality content, appropriate use of titles, meta data and keywords in addition to quality internal and external links. These techniques build a website’s credibility instead of trying to fool the algorithm. 

If you want to take the ethical approach to SEO and prevent being penalised, be sure to steer clear of link spamming, content spinning, back links and press release spam.

Instead, focus on genuine content marketing, social media presence, mobile interface, back link quality and value creation for customers as advised by online advertising giant Word Stream!

With the increasing ability of Google’s algorithm to detect black hat SEO techniques, do you think there is still a market for people selling these unethical marketing services?

the problematic content

This week I want to delve further into the advertising of potentially problematic content, where my focus turns to gambling ads, the fastest growing category of advertising according to AdNews (2016).

Statistics from the Victorian Government’s responsible gambling campaign reports that:

1 in 4 kids can name FOUR OR MORE gambling brands.

3 in 4 can name at least one.

(image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay)

Recent changes in ACMA marketing regulations were clearly not enough as another set is scheduled for April 2019.

These new rules require digital marketers to use every tool possible to protect kids, including:

  • Preventing exposure to gambling ads on kid’s websites or in online games
  • Removing logos and concepts that appeal to kids from the ads
  • Restriction of marketing by any influencer who appears under 25 years old
  • Limited advertising during televised sport
(image by Campaign Live)

Despite these restrictions, gambling companies are engaging in highly successful digital techniques such as ‘push marketing’ (promotional messages such as texts or emails) which suggest a significant influence on riskier betting behaviour and increased spending. 

As a result, the most recent statistics from a 2018 report demonstrates that the growing areas of gambling correlate with marketing trends – a 6.9% increase in spending on race betting and a 15.3% increase in spending on sports betting as per statistics from the Victorian Government’s responsible gambling campaign. All made easier through the instant gratification (Psychology Today, 2016) of online betting apps. 

I’d love to hear your opinion on whether you think these statistics warrant further restriction or maybe even a ban of digital gambling advertisements?

the influencers

Influencers are individuals with a large social media following or platform which can be used to ‘influence’ their followers to buy particular products. 

(image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay)

Influencer marketing was born via the economy of trust. Trying out a product that followers had seen an influencer use or give a recommendation for soon turned into ambassadorships and brand deals in the Maldives. 

According to Business 2 Community, influencers can be paid ridiculous amounts of money by companies trying to access a segment of their target market through the influencer’s followers.

While some influencers have maintained their moral compass at the loss of thousands of dollars in brand deals, others have not been so gracious. 

I believe there are many brands and influencers that exploit their consumers/followers through digital marketing. 

An example of this is the ‘teatox’ brands being advertised by fitness and health influencers, models, the Kardashians. 

According to Summit, millions of social media users receive the message loud and clear that they should be drinking detox tea and causing themselves gastrointestinal issues in order to look like the influencers they follow (of which many do not actually drink these teas despite advertising them). 

The teatox phenomenon is a million dollar industry that feeds off of young girls’ insecurity in their bodies and their trust in influencers.

(image by Slideshare)

For me, in this case the ethics are pretty black and white…influencers have a responsibility to their followers that includes not marketing harmful products to them!

(If you are interested in this topic, check out @jameelajamilofficial on Instagram who is a powerful voice speaking out against unqualified Instagram ‘health coaches’ marketing some very questionable products.)

the ‘creep’ factor

In today’s post, I want to focus on personalised advertising which has become a popular but highly contested digital marketing technique.

Personalised advertising collects user data through cookies gathered from your search history. With this information, online ads can be targeted to individuals who are assumed to have an interest in the product. The technique is designed to increase ROI by focusing the ad’s reach on high-potential customers – and it’s successful, check out some of the results here at Idomoo (2017) and V12 (2018).

Image by Geralt from Pixabay

Branded as ‘creepy’ by over 70% of Australian consumers (Smart Company, 2018) the extent of this creep factor suggests that the ethical implications need to be considered. 

Online touch points such as visiting a website or liking a post are chased up with a bombardment of reminder advertisements which seem to follow you around from site to site. Customer experience platform InMoment (2018) revealed we “still have a ways to go before personalisation in marketing is viewed positively by customers”. 

It is arguable that individual agency is at risk due the manipulative nature of the personalised ads which are almost inescapable on many popular websites. While people can remove themselves from these platforms to avoid the ads, so much of our lives are online that this may not be a viable option.

It is important to consider the disconnect many businesses assume exists between ethical choices and the effect on their bottom line. In this case, that link is made abundantly clear in a study by Choice which found 40% of consumers are put off by technology that collects their personal data.

What are your thoughts, is it morally wrong?

the moral tightrope

Digital marketing relies on various forms of digital media and ICT to promote brands, create customer desire and sell products to consumers (Chaffey and Smith, 2013).

Frankfurt School of Finance & Management

In an ever evolving industry, what I find fascinating are the moral principles that guide digital marketing decisions and the ethical implications of them. 

Digital marketing currently follows the self regulatory AANA code of ethics for advertising, last updated in January of 2012. Considering the rate of digital transformation and development within the digital marketing industry over the last 7 years, I’d say an update is well overdue! 

The code’s criteria stipulates that marketing communications are “legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and a sense of fairness and responsibility to competitors” (AANA, 2012).

(image by Milada Vigerova from Pixabay)

There are both pros and cons for businesses who choose to follow these codes of practice, many of which can have an impact on the bottom line. 

I will explore these concepts over the next few weeks, spotlighting different platforms and techniques used by digital marketers. We will have a look at the brands and platforms who are making ethical decisions and delve into the reasoning behind those who aren’t.

Ethics is a personal passion, so I hope that these topics will be as interesting for you to read as they will be for me to research!

If you have a request for me to cover a certain digital campaign, company or platform, please leave a comment!