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Making the Choice: Morals, Marketing and Money

Effective marketing requires morals for the long run. Individually we all draw a line we absolutely will not cross when it comes to our morals. But when we are offered a lot of money (a big new client, a tax break, venture funding, a promotion) we may consider moving our line a tiny bit. A business partner of mine once asked me the provocative question: “If a client offered you millions of dollars, would you turn them down because they were doing something that was against your morals?”

I didn’t hesitate then to assure him I absolutely would turn down the money. That’s who I am. My motivations are different than his. In disbelief, he kept pressing to see what price could buy my values. Our conversation sprung up over cigarette manufacturing, and my unwillingness to budge over what I perceived as wanton endangerment of human life for the sake of greed.

This is a conversation we all face sooner or later in business. Mine was hypothetical. For many of us it is all too real. It deeply impacts our organization, culture, and yes, our political landscape as well. It isn’t that someone is more or less moral than the next person. Our morals can be quite individual – the question is, are you being true to yours?

Where Is Your Line?

We all have morals that serve as guidelines steering us away from harming ourselves or others. Many morals have been legislated into our society, regarding theft, endangerment, abuse, murder, and human rights. Others are up to us: Will we lie, cheat, have the extra-marital affair, “borrow” what’s not ours, omit to pay what we owe, undercut a rival, or misrepresent ourselves to gain something we feel we would not get otherwise? Naturally, if we get caught, there are consequences, since trust is destroyed. In the end, are we willing to take that risk? If we are, then what is the price tag we place on our choice?

  1. Would you do it for a million dollars?

  2. How about to save your child’s life? Your own?

  3. Would you do it if you were in danger of losing your job? Your home? Your position in the community?

  4. What if you felt sacrificing your morals in one area might create greater good somewhere else?

Everyone has a line. What’s yours?

It is important to know the answer, because sooner or later, you will face these questions. They will shake you to your core and alter how you see yourself. They also will alter how others see you as well.

Marketing’s Manipulation: Is It Moral?

Everyone is a marketer. From personal branding to politicians – the marketing messages are noisier than ever. There is a powerful appeal to our emotions when marketing is done right. Effective marketers understand about trigger words, making the customer the hero, walking through the pain client feel and giving them hope, telling a story, using the right colors, frequency and placement. I have frequently heard someone say that these things are manipulation and they feel “dirty” as a result.

Emotional appeal is actually not manipulation unless the motives behind it are. Holding hands with someone you love is an expression of true feeling – until it isn’t. If you hold their hand pretending you care, when you really just want them to do something for you, then it is manipulation. The same is true with marketing.

A brand is a promise that your marketing delivers to customers. Hopefully your brand sincerely needs and wants to have a relationship with them. If a brand delivers on its promise, trust is built. If it does not, then trust is broken. Lies do harm. Making a false promise to your customers when you don’t have the ability or intention to live up to it is immoral. Period.

Marketing is not immoral. Organizations that misrepresent themselves are.

Is It Worth It?

We break from our morals when we believe are not able to get what we want any other way. We either feel we (or our organization) are not enough without breaking with them, or that there is not enough of what we want to go around for everyone. It is a mindset of scarcity and lack.

Bargaining over morality – eg: picking the lesser of two evils – is still breaking with our morals. There’s no escape clause here. We are cutting the baby in half. It weakens our sense of self-worth, trust in our inner wisdom and our own abilities. We become a victim of the whims of the world, the political landscape and we sell ourselves out. The result is we break trust with everyone; our families, our customers, and our community.

This is playing out in our workplace right now. It is playing out in our political landscape. It is a hallmark of our human existence. As a marketer, I have given much thought to my own morality, and the odd relationship money seems to have with both. We market to make money, and we often shift our morality to gain more. Still, I agree with the scriptures: Money is not the root of all evil. The love of it is. The price we pay when we sacrifice our morality is rarely worth what we lose.

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