What Is Unethical Marketing?

What Is Unethical Marketing?

We live in a time of information. Everyone has access to it more than ever before. And as such, bending the truth becomes the catalyst to a brand losing the trust of consumers. In a world where advertising has always relied on promoting aspirations, what could be seen as unethical marketing?

People spend a lot of their time on social media and therefore, spend a lot of that time interacting with the brands they consume – as a way to gain more insight on the things they use day today. People are looking for transparency from brands on social media. They don’t mind sharing their information, as long as they know why the brand needs that information.

At the top of the list of unethical marketing is marketing that distorts or exaggerates the truth, closely followed by using unrealistic or altered images – which is an integral part of online shopping for most consumers. These establish trust with consumers as consumer satisfaction is linked to the marketing message delivering on the value it promised.

When we look at brands that are advertising right now, we’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful that doesn’t possess some level of unethical marketing in the form of false claims or evoking emotions to convince you that a certain brand can ease those emotions. As challenging as it might seem, you are able to identify the ways you can avoid unethical marketing.

Unethical practices that can destroy your reputation

Let’s take a closer look at some unethical marketing practices:


  • Stating false, exaggerated or unverified claims – Unethical marketing seemed to be the norm in the past with brands stating false, exaggerated or unverified claims such as cigarettes giving you a more active lifestyle – a claim that was dispelled as soon as it was proven that cigarettes are harmful to your health. Consumers are most likely to be loyal to a brand that says what it means so avoid making false statements or exaggerated benefits to pull consumers.
  • Distorting the facts to confuse and mislead potential consumers – This is another common practice in unethical marketing. Brands tend to claim they lack something unhealthy in their product to appeal to consumers to buy their products. This misleads consumers as brands know that they wouldn’t be able to sell the product if consumers knew that it indeed contained what it claims it doesn’t. Complete transparency is key here.
  • Masking dark sides or side effects of products or services – You’ve heard the statement, ‘Too much of a good thing is bad’. The natural remedies industry has a tendency to claim that their natural products have no side effects. This is a false claim as everything consumed, especially over a period of time, has side effects – unless those side effects are unknown. The safest statement to make in this instance would be, ‘There are no known side effects’.
  • Competitive advertising – This is common practice in international advertising, telling consumers how bad your competition is to make yourself the next best choice. This has been the practice for a lot of big brands that are constantly going head to head for the top spot such as famous takeaway restaurants or well-known German cars. The most professional strategy is to focus on the one thing your brand has that your competition does not help you stand out from the pack.
  • Using sex to sell – Advertising has boasted the statement, ‘Sex sells’ for a very long time without taking into account that sex also alienates. Brands tend to use women to sell unrelated products such as cough mixture or even heavy machinery when it has nothing to do with the product or brand positioning. Remain relevant to your brand.
  • Putting fear into consumers – This is a practice common to the insurance space where you’re given numerous hypotheticals of what harm could come to you if you don’t protect yourself with their insurance policy. This is designed to make consumers make a decision on the spot which is unethical as fear doesn’t inspire loyalty.
  • Copying marketing messages – Consumers have a tendency to identify a brand with the message positioning they always hear with it. While plagiarism isn’t very common, it does happen. This may result in your brand being mistaken for your competitors. Marketing is about creativity and this practice will give an impression of a lack of innovation from your brand.
  • Exploitation – Charging for much more than the value of your product could alienate consumers from your brand. The prices of your products should be equal to or less than the value your consumer gets out of them. If the value is less than the cost, it’s unethical.
  • Race, age, sex or religious discrimination – The communication you put out to potential consumers should not be demeaning to any race, age, sex or religion. As there is no one better than anyone, your marketing should strive to put this across in all its communication.
  • Spam – This is the most common unethical marketing practice. Sending unsolicited messages to potential consumers will only land your emails in the trash. Junk mail may have given birth to spam but the dislike of it hasn’t changed, no one likes a spammer.

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2 thoughts on “What Is Unethical Marketing?

  1. If using fear as an advantage is unethical considering what insurance companies use as adapt are gotten from statistics of life expectancy in the country with regard to road accidents.

    What do you have to say about Loss Aversion?

    1. If using fear as an advantage is unethical considering what insurance companies use as an adaptation are gotten from statistics of life expectancy in the country with regard to road accidents.

      What do you have to say about the use of Loss Aversion in marketing?


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