50shadesSelling a product or service can be a nail-biting experience. Especially for someone who is just beginning with a new company.

Not so long ago, I was introduced to a potential partner. I spent several weeks trying to decipher the formula used to determine profits. I couldn’t make sense of it, no matter how many questions I asked.

It took me three months to decipher the “formula” and determine that the profits were not exactly as they had been explained to me, in fact, they were dramatically different. I’ll spare you the details, but I bailed. Instantly.

Ethics in marketing can make or break the corporate climate, corporate culture, and corporate reputation of a company. Some companies just do it right from the beginning. Others learn the hard way. And then there are those who love to wander through shades of gray, cutting corners, telling white lies, forgetting the customer experience part of the sales formula, and focusing only on profit.

What causes unethical actions? Greed. We could talk for hours on this, I suppose, but when all is said and done, it’s greed. And greed can sway an ethical marketer to unethical marketing overnight. Of course, that’s probably the last good night’s sleep they’ll have in awhile, but they’ll have huge profits – again, for awhile.

What is unethical marketing? The following list was published by Marketing Schools, and it sheds some light on those gray areas:

  • Surrogate Advertising – In certain places there are laws against advertising products like cigarettes or alcohol. Surrogate advertising finds ways to remind consumers of these products without referencing them directly.
  • Exaggeration – Some advertisers use false claims about a product’s quality or popularity. A Slogan like “get coverage everywhere on earth” advertises features that cannot be delivered.
  • Puffery – When an advertiser relies on subjective rather than objective claims, they are puffing up their products. Statements like “the best tasting coffee” cannot be confirmed objectively.
  • Unverified Claims – Many products promise to deliver results without providing any scientific evidence. Shampoo commercials that promise stronger, shinier hair do so without telling consumers why or how.
  • Stereotyping Women – Women in advertising have often been portrayed as sex objects or domestic servants. This type of advertising traffics in negative stereotypes and contributes to a sexist culture.
  • False brand comparisons – Any time a company makes false or misleading claims about their competitors they are spreading misinformation.
  • Children in advertising – Children consume huge amounts of advertising without being able to evaluate it objectively. Exploiting this innocence is one of the most common unethical marketing practices.

COMMENTS SPECIFIC TO THE ADDICTION INDUSTRY:In the addiction industry, some have discovered a few more ways to unethically market to clients seeking treatment for addiction, including nondisclosure of referral fees, sending a client-in-need to an adequate treatment facility only because it pays the highest fee, ignoring the real needs of the client while determining if they are worth the time (do they have insurance or cash), and finally, bouncing a client from one treatment center to another and paying them to do so. There are others, but I think this gives you an idea. These greedy models of customer relations do not service anyone well, and they definitely cross way over the line between ethical and unethical marketing. And like my experience, it can take awhile to recognize who the unethical folks are, but they can’t hide forever.

Ethics in all industries is critical to long-term success. In the addiction industry, phrases like “we’ve got two years left” are commonplace, as legislation looms in the not-so-far-off future, and some are unethically placing as many clients as they can to make as much money as they can…until they are told to stop.

There are many extraordinary, honest, caring and ethical placement organizations in the addiction treatment world. There are many models for how this can work, but until legislation changes, the most common is where the marketing person/company is paid for their services by the treatment center, but they earn that fee. They are the glue that keeps everything together and the oil that makes things work smoothly. They work closely with the family, the individual, the treatment center, the insurance company and more, both before, during and after treatment. They operate as an extension of the treatment center they are representing. They care, first and foremost, about the client’s well-being, their need for treatment, finding the appropriate treatment regardless of fee, and initially, the client’s safety at the first touch – that first call – not what insurance company they are working with. They earn their marketing fee for providing marketing and coordination services, and do it legally and ethically.

In the end, unethical tactics will bring down those who are participating; companies will be forced to close their doors, representatives will lose their jobs, treatment centers will lose their licenses. And consumers and clients will still need help, but they will be wiser moving forward. Today’s consumer spends time researching very carefully for a company with a strong corporate character. Don’t ever underestimate the power of ethical service and a strong corporate character.

What does corporate character look like? More tomorrow….