Ethical Marketing: Essential Standards and Regulations Brands Need to Understand

Gerri Knilans
4 min readMay 28, 2024

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Every customer wants to work with a trustworthy brand. In fact, 81 percent of customers state they need to trust the brands they buy from. This trust is not built overnight but through consistent adherence to ethical marketing standards and regulations. Whether brands are subject to distinct laws and regulations from regulatory bodies or best practices shaped by client expectations, it’s important to ensure integrity in all marketing efforts. This includes messaging, targeting, data collection, and advertising.

Six Marketing Standards and Regulations

While words like “law,” “regulation,” and “policy,” can feel heavy or bureaucratic, they’re in place to protect customers and businesses alike. These guidelines, when followed, pave the way for authentic, meaningful relationships that foster ongoing business growth and forge business relationships that are built to last.

1. Data and Privacy Regulations

Security is paramount for a brand’s reputation. Whenever a client provides sensitive information in a business relationship, they entrust you and your organization with some of their most vital assets. Imagine a customer sharing their credit card details for a purchase or a patient disclosing their medical history for a consultation. In these instances, secure data practices are not just important, they are crucial. Key regulations to keep in mind include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the ePrivacy Directive and Upcoming ePrivacy Regulation (ePR). It’s important for specific industries, such as the healthcare sector, to be aware of unique privacy regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

2. Advertising Policies

These policies can vary depending on location, communication channel, industry, or platform. For example, the regulations that govern direct mail marketing are different from those related to email or phone calls. Even similar channels can have different guidelines. For example, while there are important overlaps, Google Advertising Policies differ from Facebook Advertising Policies. It’s vital to have a comprehensive understanding of these policies before developing campaigns or content. If not, companies risk wasted resources or a tarnished brand image.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Standards and Regulations

AI technology is becoming ubiquitous in every industry. Natural language processing (NLP) integrated with tools like ChatGPT and Bard has made AI a regular tool for every type of user. Because AI technologies are rapidly growing in use, regulations are still being put in place. Most industries, including advertising, are working to define these guidelines as quickly as possible. The Writer’s Guild Strike of 2023 marked an important change in the entertainment industry, putting regulations in place to protect writers’ unique content from teaching AI algorithms while protecting their roles as creatives in the industry. These steps mark an important and public shift in the use of AI that will likely spread to other industries.

4. Fair Competition Laws.

Also known as antitrust laws, these regulations promote fair competition and prevent unfair business practices that could harm consumers or smaller, local businesses. These can relate to predatory pricing, unlawful monopolies, or exclusive contracts that reduce competition. Understanding these laws before offering services is essential, but they also require ongoing review as regulations change to meet evolving business technologies and customer expectations.

5. Sponsorship and Endorsement Regulations

While most individuals are accustomed to seeing sponsored posts or endorsed products from influencers or brands, they need to know when it’s a paid relationship. Otherwise, it not only feels inauthentic, but it’s also against the law. Companies need to clearly state when they have sponsored content or if they have provided compensation. Additionally, it’s essential to disclose any potential conflict of interest such as financial, personal, employment, or family relationships with a brand. Customer confidentiality may fall under this umbrella, so consider requirements when developing case studies or similar content and protect proprietary information as needed. While the FTC has specific laws about sponsorships and endorsements, it’s always vital to foster transparent and authentic relationships with your audiences.

6. Social Responsibility

These guidelines address the ways a business impacts the community and environment. They include transparency about ethical sourcing, environmental impacts, sustainable practices, labor impacts, diversity and inclusion, philanthropy, and community impact. In some cases, the law requires openness about these topics, while others are good practices to share with employees, customers, and stakeholders to establish ongoing trust. 60 percent of consumers have taken action, either positive or negative, based on a brand’s actions. For example, in response to negative brand actions, 30 percent of consumers have chosen to stop buying that brand’s products or services.

Fostering Authentic and Meaningful Relationships

Ethical marketing requires more than compliance with laws and regulations. It prioritizes the long-term growth of meaningful relationships with a brand’s prospects, customers, partners, and other target audiences. “Ethical marketing is the idea that what you do is an accurate reflection of who you are,” says Simon Mainwaring, author of We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World. If a company has values, and the presumption of its existence is that it’s going to play a meaningful role in the world and have a positive impact on people’s lives, then that’s what you deliver.” To build authenticity from the inside out, identify core values that will build meaningful relationships with stakeholders within and outside of the organization. When marketing efforts are aligned with your brand and values, it will have more impact than any advertising campaign or promotion could ever achieve.

Originally published at https://www.tradepressservices.com on May 28, 2024.

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Gerri Knilans

Marketing communications strategist. The right message. The right medium. Guaranteed.