How unethical marketing can destroy your reputation


We’ve all been a target of unethical marketing at one point or another. Everybody hates it, and it often blindsides you when it happens. Take hidden fees for example, one of the most annoying unethical practices that snare many within its net.

The thing is, consumers are no longer as susceptible to these underhanded tactics as they once were. Today’s consumers have been subjected to unethical marketing tactics for so long that they’ve largely figured out how the game is played.

Do you like sending out spammy emails? Don’t count on too many people opening them nowadays. That’s what spam filters are for. Do you make promises you have no intention of keeping? Get ready for a public uproar the likes you’ve never seen. Are you considering boosting your Instagram account with fake followers? Prepare to be shadowbanned.

Consumers are constantly on the hunt for any form of dishonesty in your marketing strategy, and many will investigate any offer that sounds too good to be true (because it typically is). If you’re caught exaggerating or lying you can kiss your reputation goodbye.

Making ethics a part of your strategy

In an era where customer opinion can go viral with the click of a button, ethics is playing a more significant role in reputation. Research by Mintel has revealed that 56% of American consumers stop buying from companies they perceive as being unethical.

Furthermore, 35% of consumers refuse to purchase from brands they perceive as being unethical even if there are no substitutes available. A further 27% refuse to make a purchase even if the competitor offers a lower quality product or service.

In other words, consumers have become privy to the ways of unethical marketing, and they’re using their wallets and purses to draw the line in the sand. Consumers who feel they have been wronged simply have to share their story on social media and online review platforms to make their voices heard.

If you think your business can survive the type of onslaught your customers can dish out after you’ve gone one of your way to deceive them, think again.

After Uber allegedly misled people on the amount of money they could make each month as a driver, the ride-sharing company was forced to pay $20 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle claims.

Since that time Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been working tirelessly to repair the company’s image. As of the time of this writing, his efforts are still ongoing.

Companies who learned the hard way

When businesses are caught using unethical marketing tactics, it doesn’t just make your brand look bad, but it makes your customers angry as well. There are several examples of companies (besides Uber) that had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Remember the 2016 controversy revolving around Volkswagen when they falsely advertised that their customers were purchasing “clean diesel” vehicles? Well, one lie turned into many when it was discovered that Volkswagen had been cheating on their emission tests for the past seven years. In the end, it’s estimated that VW may have settled for $15 billion to affected parties.

Luminosity, a popular brain training app, also gained quite a bit of negative press in 2016 when the company falsely claimed their app could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and also improve performance in school.

After the FTC became involved, it was found that Luminosity didn’t have the science to properly back up their claims. As a result, the brain app company was fined $2 million.

Unethical marketing doesn’t pay

In the end, the lesson is clear – unethical marketing doesn’t pay. If the FTC doesn’t get to you first, you’ll have to face the wrath of your angry customer base. Worse yet, your reputation will take a massive hit that could take millions of dollars to repair.

With the rise of social media and online review platforms, consumers have the tools to call out businesses who try to dupe their customers. That’s not to mention the heavy fines imposed on businesses by the FTC and costly court settlements. Frankly, unethical marketing doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble.

Practicing ethical marketing tactics and being transparent about your intentions is vital. Not only will you garner trust and respect from your customers, but you’ll improve your reputation along the way.


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