How the current ‘traditional’ business + marketing paradigm keeps us from achieving REAL change for the better
As one of the volunteers at The Ethical Move, I’ve been reflecting on — and practicing — ethical marketing practices since at least 2018. In July 2022, we launched The Ethical Move Community (TEMC) as a space for folks doing marketing and sales. TEMC gives you the space to raise ethical questions that come up during your everyday work — and support your peers in choosing strategies and tactics consciously.
As so often happens in this work, things got real meta real quick.
In designing the space, rules and roles of engagement for TEMC, we encountered beliefs, well-meaning advice, best practices and blueprint processes around online communities almost every day. Choosing consciously took some effort and plenty of conversations. As well as dismantling some deeply embedded myths about how ethical marketing is supposed to work, and the role community plays in the ethical marketing space.
Thanks Alice Karolina, Jeffrey Shiau, Maria Arango-Kure, Jeanne Carlier and Karen Webber for letting me share our experiences in this post.
Myth 1: Community is about helping each other grow our businesses
There are plenty of Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and meetups connecting ethical marketers and business owners with each other. It’s lovely being able to hold informal conversations, collaborate on projects and refer work to each other.
But that’s not even scratching the surface of the true power of community.
Which is why TEMC is not just about helping you grow your business. Once we’re together in a safe space that’s not all about making more money more efficiently, we get to work on the root causes of the stuff we want to change.
“Why is the ‘ethical’ label even needed?”
That question starts a whole different conversation. One that involves potentially scary political exchanges. One that requires permission to think beyond capitalism as we know it.
And one that involves thinking about a utopia in which we no longer have “ethical” as our USP… because everyone’s ethical.
What would need to happen for that utopia to materialize?
That’s what TEMC is about, and what we believe is the true power community has to offer.
Myth 2: Ethical marketing + sales have nothing to do with global issues such as oppression, colonialism, or our economic systems.
Yep, we get it: we’re all part of the system called ‘the global economy’.
Like fish in water, we take it for granted much of the time. Perhaps even to the extent that we’re worried that the things we hold dear (freedom, financial security, creativity, the list goes on…) might be threatened if the underlying system changes.
The thought that honesty and transparency are enough to make our actions ethical seems oh-so seductive.
But it’s not enough.
The global economy as we know it stands in the way of people and planet being treated with dignity and respect.
It provides the perfect breeding ground for oppression and exploitation to continue just below our awareness: a numbed out, instant-gratification, consumerist society.
Ethical marketing must center those who’ve been marginalized, racialized, colonized by white supremacist consumer capitalism.
So we can raise awareness for the bigger picture (consumerism, politics, supply chains).
Because it’s all connected, whether it be psychological sales tactics, human rights abuses, or wildlife sanctuaries that are being destroyed.
TEMC stands in solidarity with people and movements working for global liberation. Consider this community your lab for cooking up alternative marketing and sales practices that make “ethical moves” the norm.
Myth 3: Online communities should be a free element in a larger marketing funnel.
Most membership communities online exist in order to nurture leads for their hosts. That’s fine as long as all involved are aware that they are leads being nurtured in the hope of a sale.
At The Ethical Move, we don’t have an ultimate offer that we hope to sell to you via the membership.
To us, you’re not a lead: you’re a member of our grassroots movement.
As a social movement, we organize (educate + connect) and mobilize (get active to craft change).
You’ve come to the right place if you want to learn ethical marketing from the ground up. So you can take action. Beyond growing your own business.
Because this is about creating industry-wide change.
For example, instead of teaching you how to run more successful Facebook ads, we’d rather ask: “Should we run Facebook ads at all? And if so, how can we do so in an ethical way?”
Creating and holding the space for these kinds of high-quality conversations is labor that deserves to get paid.
Charging a membership fee (without pricing anyone out) helps us stay laser focused on supporting you in your growth as an ethical marketer. Not using the topic of ethical marketing to grow our own business.
Conclusion: Ethical marketing is a conversation
Perhaps the biggest myth about ethical marketing is this: Expecting a list of commands and prohibitions or a ranking of businesses according to their ethics.
Real life is far too complex for that. Even individual tactics like countdown timers don’t fall neatly into a “good” or “bad” camp — depending on intent, context and audience, they can be helpful or manipulative.
The real work is not in judging each other and prescribing specific do’s and don’ts. It’s in reflecting on the connection between intent, context and audience — and holding ourselves accountable.
This work is easiest and most rewarding in community. The kind of community that’s more than just a captive audience for sales pitches. Once we’re open to honest discussion and diverse perspectives, we can re-form our professional practice.
I’m curious to see how this principle can inform branded communities, too. What if companies invited their audiences to transparent conversations and allowed their communities to hold them accountable?
Ethical marketing has a lot to do with people’s emancipation from the limited role of ‘consumer’ in relation to business. It might benefit from more spaces that dare to debunk the myths surrounding online communities and their places in the funnel.