Marketing is arguably the most important part of any business, brand, or company’s success. It how we inform people about what we have to offer. It’s what makes our products or services better than the competitions’. Including the added value they can get by becoming our customers, and the rewards they’ll get for being loyal to our brands. Without marketing, we’re essentially relying on luck. We are hoping that our target demographic will just happen to find and pick us from a pool of candidates. But with the age of the internet, ethics in internet marketing hasn’t been regulated.

There’s a tendency for people to see marketing as a one-way street; we create some type of advertisement to convey a message that is received by an audience in the hope that they will have a positive response to our messages, prompting them to pursue our products or services rather than the products or services of competitors. However, it’s helpful to think of marketing more as a relationship for one important reason: trust.

Did you ever notice the aversion you probably have to salespeople? When you go into a retail store in which the employees earn some type of commission, you’ll notice that they’re a bit more assertive, perhaps even aggressive, with their customer service than we might prefer. For these sales reps, making sales is a necessity. The amount of money they earn by working in sales is either partly or fully dependent on the amount of product or service they’re able to sell, which translates to a more offensive form of customer service. But since we, as consumers, are aware of their need to make sales to earn a living, we have a tendency to be untrusting of these salespeople. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we wonder whether they’re selling us something they really think we need or whether they’re simply trying to get us to swipe our credit cards and walk out the door.

Marketing is a very similar situation as commission-based sales, but instead of salespeople, marketing deals in advertisements. As professionals in the addiction treatment industry, we send out various marketing materials – i.e., web ads, print ads, newsletters, direct mail, flyers, etc. – in the hope that the marketing materials will result in treatment admissions. Echoing the situation with salespeople, the average consumer tends to be untrusting of marketing materials. This should come as very little surprise since virtually no person enjoys marketing materials. As professionals who are using marketing to garner success in the addiction treatment industry, it’s important to make sure our marketing communications convey a sense of trustworthiness to the audience, which can be done through ethical marketing.

But what, exactly, does ethics in internet marketing look like? That’s a terrific question and I’m so glad you asked.

Ethical vs. Unethical Marketing

Believe it or not, marketing can be either ethical or unethical. It’s quite as simple as it looks. Let’s start with the latter: ethics in internet marketing. The type of person who’s often guilty of unethical marketing is the entrepreneur who has only just started his or her business and is wanting to achieve rapid success. When the success isn’t quick to come on its own, the individual looks for ways to achieve success artificially, which often equates to dishonest marketing. This can include things like making false claims about one’s business or the success of one’s products or services. Such unethical marketing would likely result in an increase in business, which was the desired effect; however, when those customers realized that they were lured by dishonest, unethical marketing, business would quickly slow to a crawl and the individual would either be back in the same position as he or she started, or perhaps in an even worse position.

By comparison, ethics in internet marketing is honest, respectful, and patient. When someone uses ethical marketing tactics, he or she doesn’t try to entice new customers by making false claims or promises. Such a person is respectful of his or her customers, not wanting them to be unhappy or unsatisfied by their products or services. Someone who uses ethical marketing understands that the reputation of his or her business is dependent on each customer’s experience being a patron of that business or company. Even though positive word-of-mouth travels much slower than negative word-of-mouth, word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing – whether positive or negative – that exists, which is even more reason to be respectful of the customer experience.

And finally, ethical marketing means being patient rather than trying to counterfeit success. Dishonesty may lead to quick growth today, but it will result in substantial decline tomorrow. By comparison, being honest with and respectful of the consumer will often result in consumers forming a much stronger and more positive impression of a business, which leads to lasting brand loyalty. Obviously, it’s different with addiction treatment facilities than it is with brands like Coca Cola and Nike; however, people who come to trust your addiction treatment facility will be highly likely to speak positively of your facility to others who may be in need.

How to Implement Ethics in Internet Marketing

There are a number of basic principles that are very helpful when it comes to ensuring that your marketing efforts remain ethical. The first principle is also the most obvious, and that’s honesty. One of the worst things that you can do is be untruthful in your marketing efforts; whether this means misrepresenting yourself, your business, your products, or your services, it’s inevitably going to be extremely damaging to our business. Your consumers will almost always find out when you’ve lied to them or made false promises, so this is one of the worst mistakes you can make in your marketing campaigns.

It’s also important to be conscientious in every sense of the word. Be conscientious and respectful of diverse people and their diverse cultures and beliefs. Try not to communicate any messages in your advertising that would be abrasive or insensitive to certain groups of people or communities. Especially in the addiction treatment industry, the idea is to be as appealing to as broad a group of people as possible, which means diversifying your prospective customer base. You should also be conscientious of the world and the environment; show respect for the world around you and make sure that your marketing materials never convey a lack of concern or care for the state of planet, especially since environmental activism has become prominent in recent years.

Another important principle to remember happens to be one that is often overlooked, which is the principle of distinction. You’ve probably seen it before: Certain businesses or companies will draw “inspiration” from the logo, packaging, or advertisements that have been used or created by successful competitors. By all appearances, it seems that they’ve all but directly copied the more successful competitor. The idea behind doing this is in the hope that consumers who are loyal to the more successful brand will buy their products or subscribe to their services by mistake due to mistakenly identifying the products or services as being what they’ve used before. In essence, it means tricking consumers into becoming customers of a business or company to which they had no intention of becoming a customer. Instead of treading these very delicate and problematic waters, the better route would be to ensure that your branding, advertising, and merchandising are done in ways that are distinct from and unique among competitors.

The Benefits of Ethical Marketing

Aside from the fact that ethical marketing is simply the right thing to do, there are a number of benefits to ethical marketing. For one thing, being honest in your marketing communications will allow your customers to form a trusting relationship with your addiction treatment center and your brand. These individuals are infinitely more likely to remain engaged with you in the future and to become ongoing sources of referrals, which is known to be the most successful form of advertising. As well, the gains from ethical marketing are much greater in the long-run than any gains from unethical marketing might be in the short-run. Even though it may take longer to see a return from your ethical marketing investments, success built through ethical marketing is extremely stable. Customers acquired through ethical marketing also tend to be happier with their experiences being one of your customers, leading to additional word-of-mouth advertising.

As you can see, ethical marketing is definitely the way to go. Although it might sometimes be tempting to resort to unethical marketing to kickstart your success, it is quite damaging and could make it extremely hard to rebound in the future. Your reputation is a major part of your success, whether you’re in the retail industry or an addiction treatment provider. Don’t gamble with your success by resorting to unethical marketing. Ethical marketing means happy customers and clients, which will means a happier you, too.

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    Tim Stoddart

    Tim Stoddart is the CEO of Stodzy Internet Marketing. He lives in Nashville with his wife and hit adorable pitbull, Alice. Tim loves to write about digital marketing and personal growth. You can learn more at

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