The Big Picture Of Ethical Marketing
All of us need to stop centring white, privileged, western experiences when we talk about ethical marketing.
Yes, this might sting a little.
There has been lots of noise around ethical marketing lately, and like with any noisy topic, being human, we run the risk of following voices we identify with. The ones that keep our bubbles intact.
Ethical marketing is not only about people feeling duped or lied to, although that’s where it hurts us privileged folks the most. It is not about railing against the evils of so-called ‘bro-marketing’, even though it presents itself as a convenient scapegoat. It’s not even about the fear and shame we feel or the debt and trauma it has caused, although — with all my heart — I wish you never had to experience that.
This is not about us white folks. The privileged, the winners of this world. We need to stop centring ourselves and start looking at the bigger picture.
The real issue is a global oppressive system that leaves the bottom of the supply chain absolutely destitute. At the ethical move, we call it consumerism, you can call it capitalism or white supremacy or patriarchy… I really don’t care which name you pick, they all create the same result: inequity, oppression, imbalance, the destruction of our planet and our wellbeing.
And yes, those are big words. Huge concepts. Insurmountable challenges.
Except — they are not. It’s just that our vision is clouded by a global addiction that is keeping us trapped in our own little worlds to maintain a very, very profitable status quo.
The addiction is instant gratification mixed with unsustainable amounts of consumption, which is created by ruthless, insidious, mostly imperceptible psychological manipulation.
By placing shame, fear, and fake needs into our minds every second of every day, psychological tactics are made to bypass our decision-making process — using our brains against us to make a profit.
And that is terrifying. And definitely in need of being called out.
However — as much as I love that we’re finally challenging these tactics and talking about doing it differently —this is where the conversation online seems to end… when it is only the tip of the iceberg.
I don’t want us white folks to inadvertently dilute the message of ethical marketing by making it about us. It is not meant to be a buzzword, a trend that gets people sucked into new variations of the same high-pressure funnels — using it that way harms the cause.
What ethical marketing really is
Psychological manipulation is the start of a chain reaction, the linchpin that keeps us circling round and round, making the same folks richer and richer and leaving destruction in its wake for the other 99%.
With mis- and over-consumption we create cheap production, cheap labour, cheap materials, cheap products, big corporations with strong lobbies that impact policies and inform governments in charge of social justice, our welfare and our environment.
Every person who falls below the poverty line is one more person having to manage basic survival and the safety of their family, not worry about being a ‘conscious consumer’. Every person displaced because of persecution and poverty is one more person that is forced into the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy. And the cycle continues.
Over-consumption manifests in global supply chains that fail all but the top few links. We are losing (and have lost) our grip on basic human rights and the planet.
If this sounds overly dramatic, it’s likely that you are benefiting from the status quo, protected from seeing or experiencing what is the reality for the less privileged.
Ethical marketing is not about feeling better on sales calls. Not even close. Ethical marketing is about breaking the system. It’s about decolonization. Liberation. Intersectionality. Inclusion.
It is about challenging every one of our assumptions about how we’re selling and being sold to, so we can find a way for everyone to thrive. Not just white, privileged people in the West.
Why we need a standard**
The original intent of the law, the reason why we have rules and regulations, is to protect the most vulnerable. I know that rules feel tedious, they are not always handled properly, and often benefit the wrong parties. But right now, most of the world’s population are threatened by our addiction and there is nothing to protect them.
Not wanting to regulate psychological manipulation and the resulting mis- and over-consumption, means not wanting to change the status quo.
We are facing very real ethical problems that we’re seemingly unable to solve. There are brilliant minds at work in amazing organizations all over the world, but they are working within a system that will continuously erode the ground under what they build. We don’t need better ideas, we need to break the addiction and sober up so we can think straight.
A certification process for ethical marketing (think B-Corp or Fair Trade) allows business owners to take ownership of their industry, their corner of the global economic system. It combines a bigger commitment with specific actions and a way to measure impact so we can all learn more about what is actually needed.
We want to create a standard, but do it together.
The ethical move pledge is the first step. It’s a place to rally, to take direct action, and with it spread the word. It is meant to challenge assumptions, to create conversation, to connect us with others who want to break the cycle. It is not meant to stifle creativity, but to make it flourish and grow — keeping under-represented folks at the heart of what we create instead of reinforcing white privilege.
We will shift and adjust the pledge based on our continued conversation until we can create a standard* that works for everyone. Already, it has been an exponential learning curve, one that we will share soon.
*Standards can be problematic as well, the ethical move team often talks about this in the context of woke washing. This will take some time to figure out, but we’re here for it. Even if we find out a standard is not what’s best for ethical marketing.
**We’ve gained a lot of clarity around the creation of a new standard and decided against it! Read more here.
It will take all of us
One thing I have learned from the ethical move is that breaking the cycle is a communal effort. The centring on the individual that is so common in the West keeps us running in circles. We’ve named the ethical move ‘a conversation’ from the start, knowing full well that we have limited knowledge and need to be challenged. We need your thoughts and opinions more than you know! We invite you to be part of this, to follow our moves, make moves yourself and tell us about them.
We’re challenging this global free-for-all, to replace it with global liberation and thriving. And that will take all of us, or it wouldn’t be for everyone.
We are here for the conversation. We will not, however, centre the ethical marketing conversation on the white, western, privileged experience.
That would be reinforcing the status quo, not changing it.
Look out for our new content series led by Dimitra Meghawaty to sink deeper into this topic.
One item on the list is how some ethical marketing approaches (such as playing the long game) are really only possible for people of privilege. And how the current ethical conversation centring on the feelings of white people feels ..inauthentic, even narcissistic to folks in the ‘Global South’.
We all need to be aware that within a colonized system, everything already has a default ‘white privilege’ setting — and that’s what we’re here to poke holes into.
I am being schooled in the best possible way. I hope I can count on you to join me in this education.