There is no such thing as bad publicity – or is there?
Everybody loves McDonalds, one of the world’s most successful franchise. But the love was not forthcoming in March 2020, when the world had just begun to grapple with Covid-19 by going into lockdown.
In a bizarre act of solidarity, McDonald ran advertising and digital marketing campaigns that showed its iconic golden arches (M) separated into two. The company received massive backlash online in return.
Many pointed out that McDonald’s wages continued to be pitifully low, and its servers complained about being made to work without adequate precautions.
This example clearly shows how even the most beloved brands can face unprecedented criticism when they take the wrong step. Most internet users today expect some level of sensitivity and morality from digital marketing campaigns. Thus, digital marketing ethics are critical for the success of online ad campaigns.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
The pressure on creators to make original content has never been greater. With millions churning out new videos, photos, and messages everyday, it can be hard to strike the right note.
Internet users are constantly bombarded with details designed to capture attention, which makes digital marketing an even harder task. Some, then, resort to copying what had worked before for others.
There is a difficult line to be drawn here. It’s not as if an idea that comes to one can no longer come to somebody else. Besides, what counts as original anyway? There is always some inspiration that creators tap into when they develop digital marketing strategies.
Plagiarism has been an old issue in marketing. The difference is, however, that most used to let it slide then.
Creators have taken to social media to air their grievances about their artwork, videos, and aesthetics being plagiarized for digital marketing campaigns. Platforms like Diet Prada have begun to call out such instances.
What’s discomforting is that those who have their hard work stolen often come from minority communities, lacking the resources or support to go up against industrial giants.
But the growing backlash on social media has begun to show that advertisers can no longer be so free flowing with their ‘inspirations’ anymore, or they risk thousands pulling away from their brands.
Hopping On The Bandwagon
Many marketing professionals see viral challenges as a way of hitching the ride to incredible exposure without spending big bucks. However, it can backfire just as easily.
In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went massively viral on social media. The idea was to douse yourself with a bucket of cold water and/or donate money towards research on the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The challenge was taken up by many celebrities, and then brands ventured in as well. The problem was, that many treated the campaign as a quick get-famous gimmick rather than understand the story behind the challenge. Samsung infamously used the challenge to advertise the waterproof feature of the Galaxy S5.
As you can imagine, massive criticism followed. In contrast, Old Spice pulled off something that was both hilarious and heartwarming. Featuring the famous ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ character Isaiah Mustafa, the video showed the hilarious attempt of the mascot to get himself wet to no avail.
Instead, he pledges to donate $1000 dollars – thus nailing what it all was really about.
Be True To What You Are
The whole idea of digital marketing, like traditional advertising, is to tell a story. It follows that is there are some stunts or speaking products, and its all fun and games. Some digital marketing strategies however tend to go a little too much into the reign of imagination, landing solidly in the realm of the misleading.
In 2018, Google banned over 2.3 billion ads for violating its advertising policies, including presenting misleading facts. In traditional advertisement, fairness creams have been a big violator of truthfulness. Many project themselves as capable of providing fairer skin within weeks, a myth repeatedly debunked by science.
More terrifying than the wrath of platforms would be the fury of consumers. Misleading content may cause a few to buy your products or services, but it won’t be long before they come right back to complain. Negative google reviews and a handful of tweets may be all it takes to completely tank a business today.
So, no publicity that you may get from a misleading digital marketing strategy will ever be worth it. Sooner or later somebody will figure out the truth, and the brand will have a lot to lose.
And These Were Never Okay
It is 2021, yet advertisers still somehow struggle to make digital marketing strategies and campaigns that are not sexist or racist. Italian fashion house Dolce and Gabbana decided that for some reason, an explicitly racist series of ads, put up on the Chinese social media platform Weibo was the perfect way to attract the rich – of China.
Oftentimes, the problematic nature of ad campaigns in digital marketing only reflect the sorry state inside departments and boardrooms. Women and people of color have time and again had the doors shut on their face, and been excluded from the most lucrative sectors of industries, including marketing.
The fact that such digital marketing strategies continue to be the cornerstone of so many brands just show the lack of diversity within companies.
The Path To Ethical Digital Marketing
Indeed, in order to be ethical in its marketing, digital or traditional, the first step any brand needs to take is to increase the number of people who get to have a say in the making of these campaigns. It is only by increasing diversity on the ideation board can a brand reach out to diverse populations.
Another issue that is essential to be addressed for ethical advertising and digital marketing is accountability. On being called out for problematic marketing, many brands have put forward apologies that have left much to be desired.
Some have in fact deflected the criticism completely, instead suggesting that their ‘intentions were never to hurt’ or that ‘people misinterpreted their marketing strategies.’
This is not only wrong, but a dangerous path to head down. It shows a callous attitude towards customers and their loyalty, which is something that no brand should ever test.
Do you agree with these points on ethical advertising and digital marketing? What other advertising and digital marketing strategies do you find problematic? Or do you think that people have become too sensitive about things? Discuss below!