5 Principles of Ethics in Marketing – the Islamic Marketing Series

You can call it faith-based, ethical, Islamic, halal or truth Marketing but they all have one thing in common. How to do marketing and sleep at night with a clear conscience? In a few years, this conscience-based marketing will dominate how marketing is done. Why do I say that?

Oftentimes the benefit is not based on a real need, but a superficial want created using the many manipulative tactics available to marketers.They just are skilled at pushing the right button but rarely care about providing real value. 

Ethics in Marketing vs. Ethical Marketing

Ethics in marketing refers to the moral principles in marketing, the moral rights and wrongs, being honest, truthful and practices that are good and righteous communication of the product to its intended audience.

Ethical marketing focuses on the environmental issues and impact made by brands that engage their suppliers in fair trade and is a wider application than just sales and promotion. It involves the social responsibility of the brand or company in creating the product which involves all stakeholders in the production of the product, from the company’s vendors, community as well as workers.

Unethical Marketing Examples

You may think this only happens with sleazy sales people but in actual fact it is more widespread than you think. So much so fraudulent marketing or at the very least unethical marketing seems to be the norm in many businesses such as the automotive industry and computing industry in the east and west. (see: Volkswagen, Apple, and Lenovo examples).

This does not mean that it is not happening in other industries. They just haven’t been caught yet, while others like the food commercials have been exposed:

What is Islamic Marketing and How Does it Relate to Ethics in Marketing?

Islamic marketing is a relatively new concept but it is making its mark and adopted by many, either consciously or unconsciously. It really deals with the process of marketing which is guided by Islamic principles of consumption.

The discussion in the academic world is still largely based on do’s and don’t of consumption, and what types of products or services that can be marketed or sold. Hence, there is still room for discussion on the topic of marketing practices: what makes it ethical vs. unethical marketing?  

 Allah warns those traders who cheat in weighing, he says:

“Woe to those that deal in fraud, – those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account- on a Mighty Day when (all) mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds.”

(Qur’an Surah ٱلْمُطَفِّفِين al-Muṭaffifīn (the Defrauders) surah 83: verse 1-6).

As Muslims we have the social responsibility to society, and to our Creator, Allah s.w.t. to market products that are offer value as advertised.

You may not be marketing a product specifically to Muslims but if you are Muslim and are involved in marketing, you need to be conscious of ethical marketing practices in Islam. You may be marketing your own product or helping companies to market their own products.

5 Principles of Ethics in Marketing, in Islam

Here are 5 principles that a Muslim Marketer should know to market their product or service with ethics to their potential customers.

1 – Focus on Process, Not Result

If you understand this concept, it will take a whole lot of pressure off you. You can have the best resources, the best marketers in the world but it will not guarantee results. Success in everything only comes from Allah. It is not because of your brilliant strategy. 

Your job is to put Ihsan (Excellence) in your marketing, do your best and leave the rest to Allah. You can’t make your content go viral every time. If you really study every content that goes viral usually coincides with something that happened that is beyond your control, whatever marketing you are doing just gets drawn into chaos and benefits from it. This element beyond your control is in the hands of the almighty  

2 – Knowledge

Islamic Marketing is not about what can be marketed and what can’t be marketed. Yes this is important as new areas are emerging such as crypto and etc. What is more important is the process of marketing, you should ask is your marketing strategy halal or is it giving you an unfair advantage over the consumer, in which there is an element of oppression. 

3 – Underpromise and Overdeliver

A lot of times Marketers tend to over promise just to secure a purchase and the result they under deliver because their products or services do not meet the expectations. ‘When you do this you can be sure that blessings in your efforts will be gone.

In the Quran, Surah Mutaffifin talks about the fraudsters who “give less than due”. In today’s terminology, this means over promise and under deliver. You would often see that in marketing brochures or advertisements, that the products would often to claim to be able to achieve or solve many problems, but when you purchase it, it does not fulfill its advertising claims.

There is no need to overpromise, because whatever marketing strategy that you use is subject to the Economics of Rizq. Your rizq in a day is fixed, you are not going to change it by over-promising. So Islamic Marketing is not about the messaging that you craft, it is about the value that you give. This means you have to constantly improve the value that you give.

4 – Vision vs. Reality

A lot of times companies sell their vision of what they want to be. A vision is about what you aspire to be in the future. Aspiration and reality are two different things. Your marketing should be based on your current ability to deliver. You are not going to lose business because you’re honest about your ability. Even if you do, Allah will compensate you with something better that you can ever imagine.

5 – Fairness

This is what is lacking in the business world today especially when they enjoy monopoly status. Let’s take your insurance agent. Consumers are supposed to take whatever they offer without the ability to negotiate. This lack of equal footing between corporations and consumers is accepted as a norm, which normally relates to financial institutions that offer the product term and pricing that are more beneficial to the seller than the buyer. This eliminates the principle of fairness.

In Islamic marketing Islam promotes transaction without compromising justice, honesty and integrity. Instead of profit maximization, Islamic Marketing is about value maximization based on equity and justice which is beneficial to all 

How to Practice Ethics in Marketing? Follow these 3 Steps

So things are always easier said than done. How can you ensure that you would make decisions to stick to ethical marketing, when push comes to shove?

Step 1 – Evaluate The Marketing Practices

First of all, how to determine – what makes something ethical vs unethical marketing?

Some types of unethical marketing are easy to detect: such as:

  • offensive ads
  • deceptive
  • slander of competitors
  • stereotyping.

Deceptive marketing is just that it overpromise and under-deliver on the promise.

18 deceptive marketing practices that have landed companies in trouble with the law, including this packaging for a cereal brand, because it doesn’t actually improve immunity. :

image source: Ben+Sam

However, some are less easier to detect, although when you evaluate it further, the marketing practice can actually be harmful to the customer.

For example, the product that digs into the insecurity of a person in order to make people doubt themselves and therefore they would then want the products. This is often how beauty products, fitness, and dieting companies conduct advertising their products.

This is because you follow the pressure of the marketing industry especially with copywriting formula of P.A.S which stands for Problem, Agitate, Solution. In the case of beauty products, fitness or dieting products, often a before and after images are shown to show the results of the products’ effectiveness, and this method often appeal to those who are insecure about their looks.

Step 2 – Offer with a Better Perspective

You can make the decision to offfer value for the product or service rather than agitate on the potential customer’s pain point (such as his or her insecurity).

To give you a better idea, using the previous example of “the before and after images” for beauty, fitness or weight-loss products and services which these niches very often use would normally lead appealing to the negative self-perception of people with personal or low self-esteem.

However, brands in these niches can still promote their products ethically by showing a balance between the impact their product can give to their customers which also appeals to their customers’ perception of a better self.

Facebook Advertisement Policy on personal health is spot on with offering a better, more positive perspective on how to create ads.

A Better Version of Ourselves

Have you heard of the saying, “We don’t buy things or products, we buy better versions of ourselves”?

As you can see, Facebook-approved images consist of images that show the ‘better version on oneself’ whereas the non-compliant images trigger the negative self-perception and insecurities of a person.

Nike’s Just Do It Tagline. The tagline is not about what Nike can do for its customers. Just Do It tagline inspire the potential in ourselves that maybe we too can achieve success in sports and fitness just like those Nike guys and gals. Nike showed us that the brand wasn’t about the company or the benefits of the product. It was about our aspirations to be better versions of ourselves. SInce then, the company has moved into more motivational ads with newer taglines, including “Find your greatness”.

Step 3 – Disclose with Transparency

You might have seen this disclaimer when shopping for clothes online, such as “Due to the difference between different monitors, the image may not reflect the color of the item.”

It’s important to manage the expectations of the customers, as part of building trust. It’s always better to underpromise and over deliver.

Disclosing conflict of interest is also another way of ensuring transparency and maintaining ethical practices in marketing. For instance, on our website, where there is a potential conflict, such as earning affiliate income from our recommended links, we would disclose that prior to the link.

Summary

Marketers have the responsibility to be professional and ethical in their marketing efforts. This is especially obligatory on Muslim marketers, as a chapter is dedicated to those traders and people who commit deceptive trading. This includes giving less than due, which in today’s terms may mean overpromising and underdelivering. We’ve identified five principles and three steps to enable marketers can practise ethics in marketing.

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