“Brand values” in 2019: why ethics matter

Written by Parry Malm, CEO and Co-founder, Phrasee

Being “ethical” is a subjective concept. We all have a broad understanding of the difference between “right” and “wrong”, and most of us make an effort to apply that understanding in our daily lives. These are the values that make us who we are and define our relationships with those around us.

It’s quite simple, really.

Applying this same concept to a company, business, or brand, however, can be a bit more complicated. In the connected, vociferous world of 2019, values are more important than ever before. Running afoul of the prevailing ethical norms of the day can have very real consequences in the form of brand damage, lost revenue, and even boycotts. The impetus for modern brands to tread carefully in their marketing dealings with consumers and their data is rooted in legitimate concerns about protecting the bottom line.

For companies in the tech space, where the marketing supply chain often involves a complex web of third-party companies, the situation can become even more complicated. As the fallout from Facebook’s poorly-managed dealings with Cambridge Analytica proved, brands are vicariously liable for the actions of those they associate with, at the very least in terms of public perception.

But it’s not just the world’s biggest social network whose dealings with third-party companies are producing real-world consequences. A recent slough of fines for various ethical/privacy marketing violations have generated negative headlines for brands across the globe. In such cases, the tech vendors responsible scarcely warrant a mention, leaving the brand damage done to fall squarely upon the shoulders of a company whose only crime was failing to vet their marketing tech vendors’ ethical guidelines/policies properly.

While walking close to (or stepping over) the ethical line can indeed often provide a short-term marketing performance uplift, it behooves modern brands to reflect on how such tactics could impact consumer perceptions in the long run.

Protect your brand

In a survey of 4,000 consumers and 400 marketers conducted by Phrasee and Vitreous World in the UK and US, 68% of respondents reported that they would not purchase from a brand that targeted negative emotions like fear, anxiety, insecurity, and guilt with its marketing. Further, 76% reported that they are “turned off” by brands that engage with high-pressure sales tactics. Data privacy concerns, it seems, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumers’ evolving ethical expectations in their dealings with brands.


Source: Phrasee/Vitreous World, UK and US, Return on Ethics Study, n=4,000 consumers and n=400 marketers, 2019. March 2018

The brands that rise to these evolving ethical expectations and put the needs of the customer first will reap rewards as the dust from the fight for ethical marketing begins to settle.

Putting clear values-based ethical guidelines in place for your company and its employees is a great place to start. However, as we’ve seen, this often isn’t enough. Holding third-party vendors and partners to the same standards is essential.

Vet your marketing vendors

Before engaging with a third-party marketing partner, make sure the ethics that guide their activities line up with those of your own brand. If you want to know where a vendor stands on the ethical issues that could negatively impact your brand, ask them:

  • Does your company have an ethics policy in place?
  • What guidelines do you have in place to ensure the protection/ethical use of consumer data?
  • Does your strategy involve the targeting of negative human emotions such as fear, guilt, anxiety, and insecurity?
  • Will you put the needs/wellbeing of our audience first, or will short-term performance uplift be your priority?

Return on ethics

Adopting an ethical approach for your company’s data protection and marketing practices is the right thing to do. But wait, there’s more!

Adopting an ethical approach to marketing offers brands positive returns in the form of:

  1. More revenue:

In the 4,000-strong Phrasee/Vitreous World consumer survey referenced earlier, no fewer than 69% of respondents stated that they “would buy more” from a brand that made use of positive, ethical marketing practices.

  1. Happier employees:

In the survey of 400 marketers, 88% of respondents reported that marketing ethically is important to them.

  1. Happier customers:

According to the research, consumers reported that marketing can make them feel angry (48%), inadequate (39%), sad (38%) and anxious (38%).

Get ethical

An ethical business and marketing strategy are solid foundations for any company hoping to make an impact. It represents a business opportunity and offers positive benefits in many forms. It’s time for modern companies to step up, commit to a more ethical approach, and reap the benefits for years to come!

Phrasee is committed to driving a more positive, ethical approach to marketing but we don’t have all the answers and we can’t do it on our own. We would like other marketers and brands to spread the word and join the movement to make #EmotionsMatter. 

For further information about the Return on Ethics research as well as a guide to ethical marketing, please visit: phrasee.co/emotions-matter