The Ethics of Modern Marketing: Can You Sell Without Infringing on Privacy?

May 5, 2022
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As I am writing this, I keep asking myself whether you – the person reading this – are going through the same moral dilemma as I am.

I’m a copywriter. Or a marketer, to put it in broader terms. And I assume you’re also part of this industry since you’re reading this, so I hope that my little introspection will help you come out with your own answers to an ever-growing problem: our customers’ privacy.

Well, let’s see what’s going on.

The Marketer’s Paradox

It’s safe to say that you probably value your privacy just as much as the next person. You wouldn’t want The New York Times, for instance, to tell everybody your home address, right? And yet, here we are, using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to post our ads. Why do we do this?

people taking a photo

Well, as far as I can tell, there are a couple of reasons, and each one applies depending on several factors:

People don’t truly care about privacy all that much. They only pretend to care because they know it’s a bad practice, but they don’t really understand what that data is, so at the end of the day they just continue using social media.

You care about your data but you’re too afraid to let go of your social activity. We’re not in the 90s anymore. Everyone seems to be chatting solely online, so you rarely have a choice.

You do everything in your power to protect your data – including running a browser in a sandbox, connecting through a VPN, and having all of your privacy settings in check. However, your job involves the use of social media or similar platforms to a certain extent, so you still need to sacrifice at least a little privacy.

a toy truck full of sand

Scenario A: Not Caring About Privacy

If your customers don’t care about their privacy, are you truly at fault? 

With that said, you can’t put the entire blame on social platforms themselves. After all, they greet you with a huge privacy policy statement when you sign up. If people can’t be bothered to read it, then who can they blame that their data is being exploited?

Scenario B: Caring, But Not Enough

You care about your privacy enough to not post every detail of your life on social media. And, fair enough, you assume the same of your customers. After all, with so many reports regarding data privacy, it’s only logical that everyone should be aware by now of the dangers that social media poses.

Still, you can’t deny that it’s a bit hypocritical of you whenever you’re configuring your ad to target very specific behaviors and likes coming from social profiles.

group of people talking

Scenario C: Caring a Lot About Privacy

Well, since you care so much about your own privacy, why are you still using social media to promote your stuff? Or, better yet, why do you still create sponsored posts and well-targeted ads? Shouldn’t others enjoy the same level of privacy as you?

In all fairness, you’re not responsible for what people share online or for how they behave once they’ve logged in. Or maybe you’re already considering other forms of advertising exclusively so that you won’t feel guilty anymore – which leads me to the next talking point.

It’s Not Just Social Media – Apps Are At Fault Too

The apps on your phone can easily be replaced by a website that uses the most modern web development techniques, such as HTML5. You don’t need an app for most of the stuff that you’re accustomed to using apps. Most apps are mere wrappers for modern websites anyway, even if they don’t tell you that.

Frankly, a privacy-oriented browser like Brave can handle many of the apps you use. But then you wouldn’t be nearly as addicted to a platform, right? Having an app on your phone is like having a bookmark but way more noticeable.

So, what’s the problem, you might ask?

Well, those apps track you just as much as social media apps. Some of them go as far as asking for your contact list. Oh, and let’s not forget the in-app ads. Those are used to track you too. It seems impossible to get rid of tracking in the modern age.

people riding camels

As marketers, this is huge because we can reach potential buyers more easily. However, just as stated before, is it really ethical to do this kind of stuff when we ourselves are against being spied on? If you ask me, there are more shades of gray regarding this manner. The user theoretically gave their consent to being targeted once they installed the app or accepted the cookies on the website.

On the other hand, you can barely browse anything these days without being forced to accept these terms and conditions. So the answer isn’t as straightforward as I would like it to be. However, if you’re feeling guilty, I have good news for you:

Targeted Marketing Without Infringing Privacy? It’s Possible!

You can deliver ads without tracking your target groups sensitive data, by using static ads and SEO optimization. As long as your ads are related to your niche, your potential to get leads and sell won’t be diminished by much.

Plus, you get a huge advantage with static ads in the sense that adblockers won’t detect them. Simply place a banner on your website without it being linked to an ad service. Only link to the product/landing page using that banner, and you’re golden. No adblocker will suspect a thing.

However, I can’t stress this enough: the website that showcases the ad should be related to the same niche. It’s basically how the marketers of old used to do it: by placing ads in relevant newspapers or magazines.

Old man reading newspaper

The Bottom Line

You can still be successful in marketing without infringing on anyone’s privacy. Using non-intrusive ads or going for some of the old methods of marketing still works wonders. No matter your opinion, users today are very well aware of privacy issues, as shown in this study.

About the author

Cristian is a copywriter and content writer who loves dank memes, video games, theater, and technology. Over the years, he’s written articles and sales letters for numerous niches, including HoReCa, gaming, affiliate websites, prepping, tech, and much more.

He can adapt to any niche out there as long as he’s given enough time to research. And just like any creative person, he loves new challenges and opportunities. That ties into his job perfectly: he never runs out of stuff to learn.

Cristian Marin

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