Giles Metcalfe Digital is only successful if your business is too, but there are some businesses I’ll work with and some I won’t. My Ethical Policy sets out my commitment to ethical digital marketing and how I go about screening clients and projects.
A question I’ve been asked a lot recently is “what is Ethical Marketing and what makes you an Ethical Digital Marketer?” Good point. Firstly, for me, it’s respecting people as people and not merely seeing them as faceless consumers, customer types or personas. Furthermore, it’s having principles and sticking to them. Lastly, it’s doing things the right way, and showing this by walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
Ethical Marketing helps brands differentiate and build trust, and the same applies to Freelancers and practitioners too.
What is Ethical Marketing anyway?
Marketing has a bit of a reputation. It’s often seen as sleazy and pushy. And consumers these days are pretty wise to underhand sales tactics. They even get turned off by them.
I’ve seen a few posts on LinkedIn mocking the concept of ethical marketing. “Because how can it be ethical to flog people a bunch of stuff they don’t need?” But these posters assume that a) we’re fooling people and b) people don’t need things. I think that view patronises the customer and does marketers and business owners a disservice.
Marketing is essential to finding clients, to surviving. We all have to do it. The question isn’t whether or not you do it, it’s how.
And that begins with your goal. You’re not setting out to bash someone over the head with your product or service until they relent and spend. You’re also not out to con people into buying something that’s wrong for them. You’re just getting your product and service in front of people who need it. You’re showing them why your brand might be right for them. You’re solving their problems.
So, we know marketing is acceptable if done for the right reasons. But as businesses who care about our impact, we need to think about marketing that’s ethical and honours our values.
[I go into a lot more detail about the definition of and differences between Ethical Marketing and Sustainable or Green Marketing in this Q&A with Hey Me.]
So, “impact”, “marketing that’s ethical” and “values” – that’s why I took ‘The Pledge’.
The Ethical Move Pledge
I’ve taken the Ethical Move Pledge, and I am committed to the following promises:
As an Ethical Marketer, I put the person before the sale
I respect you and your privacy, and I will help you make the best choice for your needs, not mine.
As an individual, I will communicate inclusively, truthfully, and clearly
I will not confuse you or hide information from you. I will help all audiences feel welcome.
As a Freelancer, I take responsibility for my part in changing the sector and the marketplace
I recognise the need to break the cycle of consumerism*.
In addition to taking a stand on which platforms I use**, I will continuously review my sales and marketing techniques and best practice to ensure they benefit the common good.
*Consumerism, in economics, is the theory that consumer spending, or spending by individuals on consumer goods and services, is the principal driver of economic growth and a central measure of the productive success of a capitalist economy. We can break the cycle by being more conscious and a ‘mindful consumer’ – buying less, buying better and using what we already own (or else reselling it, recycling it or donating it). In this way, we can “avoid the trap of consumerism” and take an anti-mimetic approach that adheres to the idea of ‘clean consumption’. As Luke Burgis says in the Clean Up Your Consumption section of the post for Epsilon Theory:
Most of our consumption is driven by mimetic systems of desire that care little, or not at all, about our well-being…
There’s nothing wrong with consuming; it’s consumerism that is dangerous. Consumerism is a spirit that enslaves us to our own desires and leaves no room for others; it undermines human freedom by short-circuiting our ability to respond to non-economic values (and there are many: like taking time off work to spend ‘non-productive’ time with an ageing parent). The goal I aspire to when it comes to clean consumption is simple: if a list of all of the things that I consume (and for how long) were made available to my wife and family and the students I teach, I’d like to be proud of it…
How To Avoid The Trap of Consumerism
Whilst I’m not a Vegan, Michael Ofei talks a lot of sense in his previously mentioned post for the Minimalist Vegan on How To Avoid The Trap of Consumerism:
How do we avoid consumerism in a world that’s engineered to make us endlessly desire more? Well, we can’t.
I know that’s a bit of a downer answer, but it’s the truth, my friends. We must fundamentally consume to survive.
While we can’t 100% reject consumerism, we do have the power to avoid the limitless vortex of excessiveness and get some agency over our lives.
And, on the subject of minimalism:
What’s the ultimate alternative to consumerism? Minimalism.
A minimalist is someone who naturally rejects consumerism and sees value in having fewer things over more things.
Minimalism is a powerful philosophy that impacts how you view material things, your relationships, commitments, and digital inventory.
By adopting a minimalist mindset, you give yourself a real chance of making sustainable positive changes to how you consume things.
With all of the above in mind, I am committed to being part of the solution rather than part of the problem – both professionally as a Marketer and as a conscious, mindful consumer.
**I won’t work on the following platforms, regardless:
- Facebook / Meta
And have deleted my personal and professional accounts for the above social media channels I was previously on.
Google, ethics and alternatives
As for Google Search and Google Ads, I work with them (not for them) on behalf of my clients. They are without doubt the most popular search engine and the preeminent Paid Advertising platform. I use those platforms as they have the biggest market share and offer tangible benefits.
I no longer use Google Analytics on this website, but I do use it on behalf of my clients and agency partners for reporting purposes and measuring Conversions, sales revenue, ecommerce product performance and ROI/ROAS, but never for user tracking per se. There are many alternatives to Google Analytics that are more ethical and privacy focused, and I did a webinar on the topic of cookies, analytics and GDPR.
But, because Google Analytics isn’t going anywhere soon, I stay on top of Google Analytics and use it in the best ways possible for clients that prefer it. If I can persuade one client to move away from a Google product, great, but rather than fixate on that, I focus on using Google Analytics ethically…
Essentially, like Radu, I take a pragmatic approach to ethical marketing. It’s how I make my living. I provide an ethical and sustainable service to ethical and sustainable businesses looking to sell their products and services to customers who actively want to buy them or take them up. Where do you draw the line, without cutting your own nose off to spite your face?
The main criteria I use when I decide whether or not to take on a new client is whether or not I think that they are ethical, and I’m aware of what a privilege that is. Many marketers are in a different position, and may well be working for organisations whose questionable practices make them feel uncomfortable. It’s tough out there, and it would be wrong for me to point the finger when we all have to make a living somehow. At the same time, they can at least acknowledge the problem, if only to themselves…
Radu Gabriel Judele, Ethical Marketer
I’m asking you to hold me accountable. Please connect with me if you see me not honouring my pledge.
How my Ethical Policy works in practice
A big part of the whole Ethical Freelancer thing revolves around the type of projects I work on and clients I work with. I work with clients in many different industries and sectors, but I actively choose to only work with positive people on positive projects. I determine this on a case-by-case basis, where there is a good fit. Projects and clients are vetted and screened to make sure that they align with my core values.
When I’m uncomfortable being associated with a business or organisation, even if I’m being asked to work on a positive project, I decline that project and I won’t work with them as a client.
Ethics & Negative Screening (Red Flags)
I will not undertake marketing for any of the following product lines / services / markets or industry sectors:
- Animal agriculture and products for agribusiness (unless demonstrably ethical and sustainable)
- Arms, ammunition and conflict
- CBD (unless the product is regulated and demonstrably ethical and sustainable)
- Direct Mail (unless demonstrably ethical and sustainable)
- Fast Fashion
- Financial Services
- Fossil Fuels
- Gambling (online or offline)
- GM (genetically modified crops)
- Greenwashers (or any other form of reputation washing)
- Healers (Faith Healers, Spiritual Healers, Reiki and Energy Healers and Energy Therapists)
- Junk Mail
- Mining and Quarrying or other high-impact environmental processes
- Personal Injury Claims, Accident and Clinical Negligence Solicitors etc.
- Pharmaceuticals, pills and potions
- Plastics (unless the product is made from recycled plastic)
- Psychics, Mediums and Clairvoyants
- Recruitment and Headhunting (unless the recruitment company and their processes are demonstrably ethical and sustainable)
- Tobacco and Vaping
- Unhealthy products aimed at children
And there may be others, judged on a case-by-case basis. This also extends to businesses or individuals with a proven track record of discrimination or extremism. Agencies who want to work with me on a white label basis must also demonstrate that their client base is ethical and aligned with my core values, too.
Obviously, the above principles don’t just apply to new clients. I ensure that ongoing client relationships are healthy and aligned with my values and needs as an Ethical Freelancer.
FOMO and high pressure sales tactics
I won’t use high pressure sales tactics, or create FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and anxiety by using techniques that generate false scarcity. I put the person and their wellbeing first, before the sale. I’ll never encourage consumers to buy a product or service they don’t need, they don’t want or indeed they can’t afford.
As an advocate of sustainability and sustainable business, I will not work with greenwashers, or promote green products from otherwise eco-unfriendly companies that are trying to greenwash their brand or reputation.
Unethical and False Marketing Practices
I will not engage in unethical and false marketing practices or techniques, chiefly including but not limited to:
- ‘Fire sales’, e.g. the sale of goods at extremely discounted prices (this also applies to so-called Black Friday Deals, and confusing or deceptive closing-down sales)
- Exaggeration or unsubstantiated false claims, e.g. promising a level of quality that can’t be quantified or delivered
- False comparisons, e.g. inaccurate, damaging or misleading statements about a competitor’s product or service
- Unverified claims, e.g. that something is “the best” without reviews or awards to prove it, or where there is no basis in scientific evidence or established fact
- Promoting stereotypes, especially xenophobia, sexism and racism, for example
- Exploiting emotional responses, e.g. anger, sadness, pity, pathos, fear of missing out or anxiety
- Influencer Marketing, e.g. social media marketing involving paid for endorsements and product placements from influencers, regardless of the product or service
- Bandwagon jumping, particularly aligning with trends or causes in order to engage in “reputation-washing”
The 5 Do’s of Ethical Marketing
I promise that I will:
- Be transparent and accountable
- Protect consumer and client data and privacy
- Commit to promoting and supporting diversity, sustainability and good health and wellbeing, including mental health
- Maximise benefit whilst minimising risk
- Always put the person before the sale
The Good Business Charter
I’m an accredited member of the Good Business Charter (GBC), another example of my commitment to ethical marketing and good business practices.
What is the Good Business Charter?
The Good Business Charter is a simple accreditation that individuals and organisations in the UK can sign up to in recognition of responsible business practices.
It measures behaviour over 10 components. They are:
- Real living wage
- Fairer hours and contracts
- Employee well-being
- Employee representation
- Diversity and inclusion
- Environmental responsibility
- Paying fair tax
- Commitment to customers
- Ethical sourcing, and
- Prompt payment
As a member of the FSB and a sole trader, I used the streamlined GBC membership and accreditation process. As part of my commitment to the principles of the GBC, I pledge that I will pay my suppliers (as well as any Freelancers or other businesses / organisations whose services I use) immediately, and certainly within 30 days at most.
Giles Metcalfe Digital is also a Member of ORB – the Organisation for Responsible Business.